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Making a connection: Wind transmission grid weakens west of Wisconsin

By Melissa Rigney Baxter
Special to The Daily Reporter

The multimillion-dollar construction projects to get the blades spinning won’t mean much if there’s no way to transmit wind farm electricity.

(Image courtesy of We Energies)

(Image courtesy of We Energies)

So far in Wisconsin, transmission has been less of a problem than local approvals and harnessing the wind, but that could change as the state reaches farther west for renewable energy.

“Connecting wind in Wisconsin is not very challenging at all,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin. “Where you see all the wind projects in eastern Wisconsin, they are close to existing transmission lines.”

We Energies considered 118 potential sites for the recently approved Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County, said Brian Manthey, utility spokesman. We Energies considered many factors, including the most efficient transmission.

Combined with access to wind and area demographics, transmission is a top priority when evaluating an area for wind turbines, Vickerman said.

“Without transmission,” he said, “there is no product to sell.”

While Wisconsin wind is easy to capture and transmit, that is not the case in the wind-rich areas in the Dakotas, western Minnesota and Iowa.

“There are huge resources of wind west of Wisconsin,” said Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin.

Transmitting those resources to Wisconsin and throughout the region is a challenge, he said, as the electric grid is not as expanded in those areas.

“Our commission is involved in this exact question,” Higley said. “How much transmission is needed to help move energy throughout the Midwest?”

There are several regional studies focusing on transmission and its effect on expanding energy demand and renewable energy sources.

Eric Callisto, chairman of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, is co-chairman of the Upper Midwest Transmission Development Initiative through the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator organization. The initiative has been studying regional cooperation for grid expansion in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Callisto said Wisconsin’s transmission lines have been improved and expanded over the years for reliability. That has offered the added benefit of easily transmitting wind energy.

“But we don’t have the kind of (wind) resource we see in the west,” Callisto said. “Transmission build out will be an issue as Wisconsin and the rest of the country look at the Midwestern resource.”

As the demand for renewable energy increases, reaching beyond the state’s borders will be a necessity.

“Wisconsin will have a blend of different renewable resources to meet its needs,” Callisto said.

Yet transmitting wind energy is not the main factor in deciding to improve or expand transmission lines, said Anne Spaltholz, spokeswoman for American Transmission Co. LLC, Waukesha.

“Unless they improve reliability or have economic benefits, there probably aren’t very many transmission projects being justified simply based on moving renewable energy,” she said.

ATC has connected 600 megawatts of wind energy to the grid in Wisconsin.

“Those wind farms and turbines have been located near existing transmission infrastructure,” Spaltholz said.

But the system is expanding. Figuring out how it grows and who will pay for it are two important issues grabbing the attention of the three study groups associated with MISO, Callisto said.

“Between these three efforts,” he said, “we’ll get to a solution that works for the upper Midwest and, more broadly, for the MISO footprint.”

READ A RELATED STORY FROM THE DAILY REPORTER

PSC approves Glacier Hills without Invenergy agreement

7 comments

  1. What is missing in this story is the bigger picture. Or could be called the “Bigger Rip Off”? ATC recently announced (with joy) the effort of helping Xcel hook up the next proposed phase of what is really the other end of the giant “CAPX2020” project from Madison to La Crosse (actually in truth, La Crosse to Madison project looking from high altitude). Starting from the Dakotas which also have enormous amouts of C-O-A-L power. Projects like CAPX2020 & ITC Holdings “Green Power Express” are complete boondoggle projects. All while we see a large player like Xcel see dramatic drops in electric demand (SEC K-10 numbers last three years running!). While people speak of “wind” watch for the clever “buzz words” in above article like “blending”. Forgotten are words like “coal” and “Wall Street P&L’s”. Great rate increases will be born very soon by ratepayers as massive new UN-NEEDED transmission projects are built with the idea of shuttling not just “some” wind power toward the eastern seaboard, but also transporting a great deal of coal power. Chicago alone has also identified almost 10,000 megawatts of wind power close by. Terrific! But this is not just about supply of “clean wind” for Wisconsin or Chicago. Do the the research and see the big national picture: it’s also about Wisconsin becoming a conduit. Ratepayers will be the bank for such high voltage transport to “high profit” eastern states. True. And If the Wisconsin Public Service Commission acts as blindly and dishonestly as the Minnesota Public Utility Commission has in the past two years shoving similar projects thru without merit then we are all in huge trouble. Fair Warning Wisconsin! Who Pays for the build outs – And who profits? Most of these projects are about greed – not need!! Serious health concerns, eminent domain, threats of terrorism to the grid and questionable need are just a few of the topics & issues which demand further discussion. Here see the letter from 10 Governors who are also concerned: http://www.pecva.org/anx/index.cfm/1,516,2263,-1,html. Additional research here: http://www.ilsr.org/capx/resources.html
    To suggest all that is needed is the mining of “resource areas”, endless build outs of “old fashioned” 1950’s style transmission to bigger the cities and we’d all sleep better—problem solved–would be almost correct except for one gigantic problem: LINE LOSS. The existing grid is still horribly inefficient. Shipping wind power, or any power long distance, is mindless. To NOT rethink how power is made and distributed now would be like saying we should have kept to horses instead of moving to “horseless carriages” years ago. Experts more and more agree, if we are to truly steward America’s resources each region of the country will need to identify what THEY each can produce locally—then use regionally. The concept we currently use of “Central Station” (having one massive energy plant; i.e. nuclear, wind farm or coal burner) then maximize production, to only try to ship power to far off distant usage points is backwards. Soon we’ll see communities everywhere “powering up” – manufacturing their own power and distributing it locally and regionally. Think thousands of smaller “stations” everywhere. Jobs would flourish and it would be very positive for the LOCAL, state & national economy. No, this argument is not about wind – it’s about market share. Those who are wise enough to see it quickly realize that the “profit barons” are simply rushing to hold our future generations captive to endless profit and control. It’s time for “smart grids” using the existing transmission. The energy paradigm is shifting. Time for us to partner with the actual “smart” consumer — allow the ratepayers to in fact participate with the investment. Now there’s an idea! But they don’t want to have that discussion….do they? Let’s go for wind and solar – but this time do it correctly.

  2. These folks last 2 posts are blowing smoke. Truth brings industry pros out screaming!! There is not a need for costly transmission. The bad decisions of the Wis PUC supporting corporate morons building over sized wind farms – then having to pay tons (at the cost of rate payers) to send “somewhere” with tons of coal power is INSANE. Can we all say: MARKET SHARE and PROFIT?

    Let’s not even start talking about ATC – Ugggg!

  3. Let’s support expanding and improving transmission lines, but let’s make certain that Wisconsin receives reasonable compensation for any electricity we sell to other regions. John Davis
    Diamond Group Construction Security
    lever@core.com

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