With wind farms sprouting all over southern Idaho, newer companies are being required to install more than just turbines.
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission approved a 20-year contract for Meridian-based Idaho Winds LLC to provide up to 10 megawatts of wind-produced electricity to Idaho Power Co. at rates designated under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act.
The Sawtooth Wind project six miles northwest of Glenns Ferry will be capable of producing up to 21 megawatts of electricity. But because wind is not consistent, Idaho Winds can guarantee only an average of 10 MW a month.
Under PURPA, utilities must buy power from producers of small amounts of renewable energy – up to 10 MW a month – at a set rate. During strong winds, Idaho Power will not purchase excess power above 10 MW.
It may be one of the last 10-MW wind projects approved under PURPA for some time if an Idaho Power request is approved in January, reducing the PURPA energy cap to 100 kilowatts.
The 10 MW will itself be enough to stress Idaho Power’s transmission capability. Idaho Power discovered threat of an overload in 2007 when Idaho Winds proposed a slightly smaller project under the name “Alkali Wind.” Some other wind projects were simultaneously proposed in the Magic Valley, and an Idaho Power study showed that adding all of them to the system at the same point could stress existing lines.
Idaho Winds cancelled the Alkali Wind contract a year later when construction deadlines neared with no solution reached.
Idaho Winds substituted the Sawtooth Wind project a year ago and received the go-ahead on Friday after it agreed to pay 75 percent of transmission upgrade costs.
Idaho Power may refund 50 percent of total upgrade costs to Idaho Winds if the Sawtooth project can provide its promised power for a decade. If refunded, the 50 percent will be paid by customers. The total cost of the upgrade is estimated at almost $2.2 million.
To keep costs down, Idaho Power will upgrade the lines and connections just enough to handle expected loads. So part of the PUC agreement includes a requirement that Sawtooth Wind will reduce production if the lines become overloaded, avoiding outages.
Both companies were agreeable because winds are rarely strong on hot summer days when load demand is high. Plus, the wind farm is scheduled to be online at the end of 2013, just two years before the Gateway West transmission line is due. If Gateway West goes through, it will reduce load pressure.
“The upgrade has to be done now; Idaho Power can’t wait for Gateway,” said PUC spokesman Gene Fadness. “But once Gateway is built, load capacity will no longer be an issue.”
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