Wind power might require a costly grid expansion

Posted on July 19, 2010. Filed under: Transmission, Wind |

From an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The Midwest could be crisscrossed with a new network of high voltage power lines to move wind-generated power from the windiest spots in the Dakotas, Iowa and Minnesota.

A group of utilities in 11 states, including Pewaukee-based American Transmission Co., is studying three alternatives, each of which would cost at least $23 billion over the next 20 years.

What’s unclear: How much it will end up costing for Wisconsin’s share of the projects. A more detailed analysis has been launched to help determine what the payoff could be in savings from increasing the flow of low-cost power around the region, said Flora Flygt, ATC’s director of strategic projects.

The studies are in response to public policy moves that could result in a dramatic increase in wind energy development. More than 30 states have moved to spur utilities to add more renewable energy. Federal energy legislation pending in Congress could set a national renewable mandate as well.

Pewaukee-based ATC, along with Dairyland Power Cooperative and Xcel Energy, are also studying a high-voltage 345,000-volt power line that would link La Crosse with Madison, with studies slated to be completed by the end of the year.

There’s no question that building essentially a brand-new extra-high voltage system for power will cost a lot. A study by ATC, Xcel Energy and other Midwest utilities, known as the Smart Transmission study, pegs the total cost at $23 billion to $25 billion, by 2029.

The 20-year planning document identifies several projects that would come into the state – some of them by 2019 – including 345,000-volt lines or 765,000-volt lines that would cross southern Wisconsin. It also identifies a direct-current power line across Lake Michigan to create another west-to-east corridor for power.

The utilities’ report, the Strategic Midwest Area Renewable Transmission study, follows the unveiling last year of a plan by ITC Holdings of Novi, Mich., that proposed a high-voltage network in the Midwest at a cost of $10 billion to $12 billion. Earlier this year, planners at the Midwest wholesale power market produced a report detailing a variety of options that cost upward of $16 billion.

Key questions remain about the plans to add a renewable power “overlay,” most notably, who would pay.


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