State sets lofty goal for wind energy

MINNESOTA - To meet Minnesota's renewable energy goals, Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants 800 megawatts of wind energy developed through a grassroots state program by 2010.

Unfortunately, just 2.5 megawatts of wind power are "up and spinning" at the moment, a state official said, leaving 797.5 megawatts to be installed within the next two years.

To get more wind turbines up and running quickly, Michael Bull, the assistant director of the Minnesota Office of Energy Security, said the Pawlenty administration is planning to propose tweaks to its 3-year-old Community-Based Energy Development program, hoping to attract more farmers and other landowners in windy parts of the state like the southwest to participate in wind projects.

Speaking to a wind energy conference in Bloomington sponsored by the law firm of Fredrikson & Byron, which advises on renewable energy, Bull said the state has 235 megawatts of C-BED wind power under contract, including 160 megawatts to Minneapolis-base Xcel Energy, and there are 630 more megawatts of C-BED wind power under negotiation with developers.

But the low number of projects already up and working is a concern. Bull is feeling pressured to meet the governor's goal, but it is not mandated by law. The state's renewable energy law requires 6,000 megawatts of electricity be produced through a renewable resource by 2025.

Under the law, Minnesota utilities must get at least 25 percent of their power from a renewable source by then, and Xcel Energy, the state's largest utility, must show 30 percent of its power came from a renewable source by 2020. The Energy Security Office is proposing changes to the C-BED law, as it is known, that would sweeten the rates allowed under the projects.

To avoid a rate increase for energy customers, however, the office wants each kilowatt of C-BED-produced energy to count more when it is used to offset conventionally produced energy. In other words, if a C-BED project using the new models develops 1 megawatt of wind energy, it will count anywhere from 1.1 megawatts to 1.2 megawatts toward the utility's goal of meeting its state mandate.

This adjustment for C-BED projects would shave about 70 megawatts of renewable energy off of the state mandate of 6,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2025, Bull said. The state also is hoping the changes will encourage utilities to work closer with wind projects to help them overcome the costs of creating a wind farm, Bull said.

He wants to encourage utilities that are developing their own wind farms to tack on C-BED projects and boost their total production.

"I've told the utilities we need you to be more proactive to get these projects up and running," Bull said. "It is not enough for you to sign a contract and sit back and wait to see what happens."

Renewable energy advocates generally support the changes but are wary about calculating C-BED-produced energy differently, said Beth Soholt, executive director of Wind on the Wires, an advocacy group for wind energy. Renewable energy advocates fought hard to get the state mandates and they worry that if an exception is made for C-BED, others might ask for similar exemptions.

"It's a slippery slope," Soholt said. "How would you say no to someone else?"

The proposals will be worked on in a task-force committee before they are submitted to the Legislature in March, Bull said. Soholt and Bull said they expect the differences can be worked out.


in Year