Blowing in the Wind Midwest Wind Farm Adds Power to Available Energy Resources
In 2003, the wind that blows across the Midwest Plains is being put to practical use for residents. Some say that wind power is the wave of the future, but in the Midwest, where wind farms are popping up in droves, the future is now.
More than ever, with hundreds of megawatts built and hundreds of megawatts more planned, wind power has been tapped to generate electricity to help replace fossil and nuclear fuels and provide customers with the option of using "green power."
Although wind power is not a new concept, the viability of selling the electricity produced from these turbines has improved in recent years due to technological advancements, as well as government mandates and incentives.
One wind power project located in southeastern Minnesota, about 20 mi. west of Rochester, has gone through the required development hurdles and is now producing and delivering its green power to the utility grid.
The utility interconnection and collection grid, developed by Garwin McNeilus's GM Transmission LLC in Dodge Center, MN, came together through a carefully orchestrated plan.
Numerous 1.5- to 2-MW wind power projects have been connected to the collection grid. To date, the interconnection can accommodate 50 MW of wind capacity with a total of 70 MW expected after future transmission upgrades. If so, it will be among the largest wind farms owned by an individual.
McNeilus, the owner, used to own a large manufacturing company that supplied more than 90% of the concrete trucks in North America but sold it in 1998 to pursue other interests, such as developing wind power and building orphanages, churches, and schools around the world.
The wind turbines, manufactured by NEG Micon, a Danish company, have capacity ratings of 950 kW and 1,500 kW and have been installed on 300-ft. towers on the selected, rural site near Dodge Center. Though they appear small from a distance, the generators that sit on top of the towers are taller than an average-size person.
The turbine blades have a 75-ft. radius, and when lying down, the hub of the blades is also towering.
The wind farm started with 10 turbine generators and expanded by adding 15 more in the first phase. The second phase added 21 more turbine generators, bringing the total to 46. With the total capacity at 50 MW, the farm will produce enough energy for more than 13,000 typical homes.
Green: The Name of the Game
Green power is the term being used most often for environmentally friendly renewable energy. It applies to all types of energy produced from renewable sources in nature instead of from fossil fuels or nuclear power. There are five principal sources of renewable energy: sunlight (solar), wind, moving water (hydroelectric), organic plant and waste material (biomass), and Earth's heat (geothermal).
Green power is seen as a way to reduce carbon dioxide and particulate emissions associated with coal burning and reduce radioactive waste associated with nuclear power generation.
With many states taking proactive stances to increase the amount of green power produced and used, the Minnesota wind farm is positioned to help meet those requirements.
A key component that made the Minnesota wind farm project a challenge, however, was the climate that was unfolding in the power and transmission market. At the same time that the technology advances were making wind power economically viable, the restructuring of the electric utility industry has complicated the procedures required for a wind generator to interconnect with and deliver power to an electric utility.
Navigating the procedural path can be a confusing—but crucial—project component. The wind farm project, however, was able to map a course for success with some key steps.
At this particular wind farm, the developer needed to identify interconnection requirements and develop a transmission interconnection agreement with Xcel Energy of Denver/Minneapolis, the owner of the transmission grid, and with the Midwest ISO (Independent System Operator) in Indiana, which oversees the interconnections to and operation of the transmission system. The interconnection agreement was needed as quickly as possible to get the power generated into the market. It also was important to initiate the procedures providing for the delivery of the power because, under the new regulatory scheme, the delivery process is separate from the interconnection process.
R.W. Beck was employed to dual-track both an interconnection study and the design/construction phases of the project and to monitor the delivery process.
Some of the key project details included:
collecting technical information for an interconnection study;
coordinating the interconnection study scope/assumptions and monitoring progress;
modifying agreements to reflect the project specifics;
coordinating interconnection designs with substation designs;
providing technical support for the interconnection design;
reviewing the substation design;
preparing relay settings for substation protection devices;
specifying, procuring, and coordinating the installation, programming, and testing of metering, meter interface, supervisory control and data acquisition, and telephone protection and relay equipment for a transfer trip scheme;
monitoring the progress of all project participants to alleviate any bottlenecks;
specifying, receiving, and evaluating bids and preparing contract documents for procuring a larger interconnection transformer for later phases.
The main project goal was to help GM Transmission LLC navigate through the maze to meet the interconnection and delivery requirements of Xcel Energy and the Midwest ISO and to keep the process moving so the wind turbines could be connected and begin generating power (and producing revenue) as soon as possible.
Time Is of the Essence
With the utility industry still uncertain and undergoing possible regulatory changes, project developers should make their requests for interconnection as soon as possible once the project has been given the go-ahead by investors. One of the aspects considered in the interconnection studies is the effect of the proposed generating project on the stability of the transmission system.
With the widespread power outage that recently occurred in the Northeast United States and parts of Canada, this aspect of interconnection is likely to received increased scrutiny, which can only increase the time needed for approvals. The time required for study, design, equipment procurement, and construction should be identified as early as possible. As the interconnection process develops, everyone involved should be encouraged to remain focused on the project at hand: getting the wind farm producing clean green power for customers.
Author's Bio: Guest author Kevin Favero is a senior director in R.W. Beck's Minneapolis office.