A ‘wind rush’ of new development is underway as power production sets records

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Wind power industry officials are touting what they describe as a “wind rush” of new development and technology advances in the U.S. market, a trend characterized by substantial expansions of generation capacity in Texas and other wind-rich states, and the improved operating efficiencies of wind farms due to technology advances and higher turbine heights.

Those conditions and a blustery October helped grid operators in Texas, the Great Plains and the Midwest set new records for wind energy generation, with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas achieving a new peak wind power output of 12,238 megawatts on Oct. 22, followed by the Midwest Independent System Organization hitting a 12,383 MW production peak on Oct. 28.

The Southwest Power Pool grid, extending across much of the southern and central plains as well as the Texas Panhandle, set a wind power production record of 8,458 MW on Oct. 18, according to data from the American Wind Energy Association.

“These records are powerful real-world demonstrations that large amounts of wind energy can be reliably integrated into the power system,” AWEA said in a statement.

Utilities in other states are expanding the continuing rush toward wind. Michigan’s largest not-for-profit provider of electricity expanded its renewable energy commitment last week by announcing it would purchase 153 MW of new clean power from an Exelon Corp. wind farm being built in the state’s “thumb” region.

Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative, serving seven electric distribution cooperatives in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, said it would begin buying electricity under a 20-year contract from Exelon’s Michigan Wind 3 facility in Sanilac County by early 2017.

With the agreement, Wolverine said it would boost its wind power portfolio to more than 350 MW, accounting for 30 percent of all power moving on the Cadillac, Mich.-based cooperative’s system.

Wolverine currently receives approximately 50 MW of power from the Exelon-owned Harvest I wind farm located near the township of Elkton. Harvest I was Michigan’s first utility-scale wind farm, producing power in 2008.

Wolverine announced earlier this year it would purchase 150 MW of output from the planned Deerfield Wind Energy project, being built by RES Americas and also in Huron County, when it achieves commercial operation in late 2016.

Exelon expands its Mich. assets

Exelon, headquartered in Chicago, has a sizable wind power portfolio in Michigan. In addition to the Harvest I project, Exelon also owns and operates the 59 MW Harvest II wind farm in Elkton; the 81 MW Beebe wind project in Ithaca; and the Michigan Wind 1 and 2 projects in Elkton and Minden City, respectively, with a combined generation capacity of 159 MW.

Corey Hessen, vice president of Exelon Generation Development, said in a statement that the Michigan Wind 3 project will expand Exelon’s wind generation capacity in the state to roughly 550 MW, while also providing a boost to local economies in Sanilac County via job creation, new taxes and community spending.

“Wind energy is an important element of Exelon’s strategy to offer more low-carbon electricity in the marketplace,” Hessen said.

Eric Baker, president and CEO of Wolverine, said the project “positions Wolverine favorably with significant renewable generation” for its seven distribution entities. Together, those utilities provide power to an estimated 260,000 homes, businesses and farms, according to the company.

In total, Michigan claims 1,531 MW of wind energy generation capacity, ranking it 14th among all wind-producing states, according to the AWEA. In 2014, wind energy accounted for 3.66 percent of all power produced in the state, industry data show.

Under a 2008 Michigan law, utilities are required to meet at least 10 percent of all electricity sales using renewable fuels by this year. Some, including Gov. Rick Snyder (R), have advocated for a revised increase in Michigan’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), but such proposals have met resistance from the state’s two largest utilities, DTE Energy Co. and Consumers Energy, and other groups that maintain RPS laws artificially drive up energy prices.

Michigan operates one of the oldest coal-fired power fleets in the country, and a number of those coal plants are slated for closure due to tightening federal regulations for carbon dioxide and other air emissions. Renewable energy advocates have said that Michigan can reduce its energy costs and pollution, while also boosting its economy, through greater investment in the wind energy sector.