Minnesota

St. Olaf Wind Turbine Case Study

For decades, Saint Olaf College has been thinking carefully about its energy consumption and impacts on the environment. On the 19th of September 2006, a 1.65 megawatt turbine became a symbol of its commitment to sustainability.

Pete Sandberg, the man who spearheaded the college's effort to erect its own turbine, came to St. Olaf in the 1980s and currently serves as the Assistant Vice President for Facilities. Since he arrived at St. Olaf, Sandberg has been involved in numerous efforts to reduce the college's impact on the environment. As early as the 1980s, St. Olaf considered restoring its land to the condition it was in before European settlement. Long before the current level of concern about climate change, Sandberg and his colleagues realized that sequestering carbon in the soil and vegetation would have been an added benefit of this conservation and restoration initiative.

An Independent Grid

In the 1990s, St. Olaf took proactive steps to upgrade its electrical supply and distribution system. In 1999, the college installed three diesel generators, which can produce up to 4.2 megawatts of electricity. St. Olaf also upgraded its internal electrical distribution system from to a 13.8kV line that loops through campus in an underground tunnel. Thanks to these investments, St. Olaf can provide electricity to almost all of its buildings even in the event of a blackout. The ability to do so allows the college to qualify as an interruptible customer and to take advantage of lower rates from its electric utility, Xcel Energy. As a result, the college saves about $150,000 every year on its electricity costs. In addition to benefiting from lower energy bills, these investments later played a key role in helping St. Olaf optimize the use of its own wind turbine.

The Seed Was Planted

In the early 2000s St. Olaf began to explore a future for wind energy on its campus, and the idea of installing a wind turbine grew out of both conviction and practicality. At the time, the college was in the early stages of planning a new 100,000 square-foot science center that would consume a significant amount of electricity. Despite pursuing LEED certification and maximizing energy efficiency, Sandberg and staff had been left to wonder how they might further reduce the operating cost impact of adding this new building to the campus grid. On-site renewable generation emerged as a potential alternative to buying more electricity from Xcel.

Plans for the wind turbine gained momentum in 2003. That spring, Honor the Earth and the Indigo Girls came to St. Olaf to launch a national tour aiming to raise money and create a groundswell of awareness and support for wind projects on Native American lands. The event also generated interest among students to begin exploring how they might sustainably harness wind energy on their campus. Little did they know, Sandberg was already one step ahead, having passed on to the administration an initial proposal to construct four wind turbines at St. Olaf.

Getting the Money and the Machine

Planning for the wind turbine began in earnest when Sandberg applied to the Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund in response to their second request for proposals in 2004. While St. Olaf ultimately received funding, this proved to be a mixed blessing. While the college waited for the Public Utilities Commission to approve their grant contract, the federal government renewed the production tax credit which unleashed a burst of wind energy development activity. As a result of the high demand and tight supply, what Sandberg originally projected to be a $1.9 million project rose to over $2.5 million. Undeterred, St. Olaf gladly accepted the $1.5 million grant and paid upfront for the remaining costs out of their capital operating budget.

The Economic Benefits

St. Olaf worked with Windlogics, a wind resource assessment company, and determined a feasible site less than a quarter of a mile northwest of campus. The proximity made it economically feasible to connect the wind turbine to the campus' internal distribution loop, which paid off in a major way. By interconnecting with the campus grid, St. Olaf is able to consume the wind-generated electricity on-site and therefore reduce their energy imports from Xcel. The school only sells excess wind energy to Xcel at night and during break periods, when campus demand is low.

This arrangement translates into a significant financial advantage. Instead of selling their entire production to Xcel for the standard small wind tariff of 3.3 cents/kWh, St. Olaf reduces its purchases from Xcel which are set at a rate of 6.2 cents/kWh. As a result, the school is able to save about $250,000 per year on electricity bills. Since this dwarfs the $36,000 in operation and maintenance that the school pays in its service contract for the turbine, St. Olaf expects to recuperate its initial capital investment four to five years after the turbine blades began to spin.

Bumps in the Road

The road to acquiring their own turbine has not been without surprises or setbacks. While awaiting a decision from the Renewable Development Fund, not only did the project's capital costs spike, but the company from which St. Olaf originally planned to purchase a turbine, NEG Micon, was acquired by Vestas. Consequently the school had to re-enter negotiations with Vestas and ultimately sign a more expensive service contract. Accepting the grant set limits on St. Olaf in other ways, too. One of the conditions required St. Olaf to pass all environmental attributes of the wind energy, sometimes called green tags or renewable energy credits, to Xcel. Furthermore, St. Olaf was also not eligible for the Minnesota Renewable Energy Production Incentive, which ceased accepting new applicants in 2005. A final surprise came after the turbine went up and production numbers failed to meet the projections. Initial estimates projected 6 million kWh of energy would flow from the turbine each year, but annual figures to date have averaged about 4.5 million kWh-roughly a quarter of the school's yearly electricity consumption. Luckily, though, this underperformance has not significantly impacted the financial viability of the project, which remains on-schedule to pay for itself by 2011.

Overall, Pete Sandberg considers the St. Olaf wind turbine an unequivocal success. It stands tall as a source of pride for the school and a highly visible symbol of the college's commitment to the environment. The wind turbine also offers learning opportunities for professors to incorporate into their courses. Sandberg is regularly called upon to give tours to groups who come to learn about wind energy from greater Northfield and beyond. Indeed, St. Olaf serves as a model for many other campuses around the country that contact Sandberg to learn how they might replicate his success. Although St. Olaf currently has no plans to add another turbine, the one they already have is not likely to fade into oblivion. The campus plans to transform the site of the turbine into a living model of sustainability. Student groups will practice organic agriculture on some of the surrounding farmland, and nearby a new building covered in solar panels will house art studios and produce enough electricity to meet on-site needs and feed excess into the St. Olaf grid.

Great Lakes Regional Wind Resources 2009

The Updates on Great Lakes Regional Wind Energy Resources were presented  February 23-24th, 2009 in Columbus, OH. Attendees and wind energy experts discussed the mid-size turbine market, comparative economics, how renewable translate into rates, integrating wind into the grid, and Wind Working Groups.

Presentations

Workforce Opportunities in Ohio’s Wind Industry
Emily Amato, Cuyahoga Community College,
Ohio Wind Working Group
AWEA Policy Update
Jeff Anthony, American Wind Energy Association
Landowner Options and Legal Issues in Wind Lease Agreements
Lisa Daniels, Windustry
Wind Turbine Supply Chain
Matt Garran, Great Lakes WIND Network
Great Lakes Wind Collaborative Overview & Update
John Hummer, Great Lakes Commission
Economic Policy Panel “Fuel Price Forecasts”
Ron Lehr, Consulting Attorney
10 FAQ’s About Wind Energy Integration…and Answers
Michael Milligan, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Ohio’s Offshore Permitting Experience
David E. Nash, McMahon DeGulis
Renewable and Conventional Energy Generation:
Capacity and Costs

Ric O'Connell, Black & Veatch

CERTs Seed Grants in Minnesota

The Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) project has awarded CERTs seed grants of up to $11,000 to help projects garner further funding and bring communities together in identifying and implementing energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. CERTs received 122 proposals, of which 55 proposals were funded for a total granting amount of $280,000.

“CERTs provides these seed grants with two primary objectives in mind: to encourage implementation of community-based clean energy projects across the state, and to provide an educational forum for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and their economic, community and ecological benefits,” said Lissa Pawlisch, CERTs Statewide Coordinator.

Project funding will put Minnesotans to work by supporting technical assistance labor services, such as for a consultant, design professional, installer or student labor, for projects across the state in all seven Minnesota CERT regions: Central, Metro, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest and West Central. 

Four of the CERTS seed grants benefited Community Wind and small wind projects in Minnesota:

Damstrom Farm: Wind Energy Project
Alexandria, MN - Craig Damstrom is building a 3 MW community wind project outside of Alexandria, MN. Energy generated will power the Damstrom Farm's irrigation needs and will supply energy for use by the local community. After turbine installation, all wells and irrigators will be run by green power, with excess energy sold to the utility to power other local farmers irrigation needs, homes and businesses. The project will increase local knowledge of the benefits of wind energy, create jobs for local contractors working on the project, and offer green energy to co-op area customers. (Clean Energy; $3,750)

Mahtomedi Area Green Initiative: Zephyr Wind Project
Mahtomedi, MN - The Zephyr Wind Project seeks to bring renewable energy, future-focused educational experiences and a vision for a more sustainable community to the Mahtomedi area through the installation of a 10kW wind turbine. The project is a grassroots effort led by the Mahtomedi Area Green Initiative, a volunteer citizen group that has been working together since 2006 to encourage enduring community commitment to sustainability. This will be MAGI's first renewable energy project and will pave the way for other renewable energy and energy efficiency projects aimed at bringing our community together around the common theme of reducing our carbon footprint and building a more sustainable community. The seed grant funding will be used for system installation and electrical and trenching labor, paired with fundraising efforts. (Clean Energy, Education & Research; $5,000)

Mesabi Range Community & Technical College: Wind Energy Technology Turbine
Eveleth, MN - The Mesabi Range Community and Technical College has secured funding for a Morphic ST-20 wind turbine that will provide students in the Wind Energy Technology and Electrical Industrial Automation Technology programs with hands-on training. The turbine will also provide continuing education opportunities for incumbent workers in wind power generation industries, as well community members interested in wind energy. (Clean Energy & Education; $2,500)

Trulson Dental Clinic with HG Wind Power, Inc.: 10 KW Roof-Mounted Wind Turbine
Stewartville, MN - The Trulson Dental Clinic will install a virtually silent, vibration-free wind turbine to generate clean energy for the building. This pilot project is the first of its kind in Stewartville, with the hopes that the magnetically-levitated, vertical-axis wind turbine will serve as a model to test the efficacy of capturing wind energy from a rooftop installation. (Clean Energy; $5,000)

A list of all of the seed grant recipients by region can be found on the CERTs website at www.CleanEnergyResourceTeams.org.

Emerging Renewable Energy Industries in MN RFP

The Office of Energy Security (OES) at the Minnesota Department of Commerce requests proposals for emerging renewable energy industries' projects. Eligible organizations are those that are engaged or will engage in the manufacture of renewable energy systems or fuels, energy storage systems, geothermal energy systems for heating and cooling, or the manufacture of components for such systems in the State of Minnesota.

Proposals submitted in response to this RFP must be received no later than 4:00 p.m. CST, December 18, 2009. For more information, visit the OES web site.

Minnesota Transmisson Study Suggests Grid Upgrades for Renewable Energy

A new study released by the Minnesota Office of Energy Security shows that the state's power grid could accomodate 600 megawatts of new renewable energy capacity by making upgrades to electric transmission systems. A previous study had shown that another 600 MW could be added to the existing tranmission grid without impacting it's performance.

"Dispersed Renewable Generation Transmission Study Phase II" completes a two-part study chartered by the Minnesota legislature as part of the Minnesota NextGen Energy Act passed in 2007. The act calls for 25 percent of the total energy used in the state to be derived from renewable energy resources by the year 2025. In order to meet that goal, dispersed generation of the grid would allow many distributed power generators, such as wind farms, to add significant energy capacity to the system. Together, the combined studies created complex computer models designed to add 1200 MW of dispersed capacity by the year 2013.

Phase I, completed in June 2008, identified locations in the state transmission grid where a total of 600 MW of renewable energy projects could be developed with little or no changes required to the existing grid infrastructure. Although the study noted that dispersed generation can have impacts on the electric grid, it concluded that the majority of the 600 MW could be sited without disruptions at locations in southern Minnesota. In fact, in 2008 the state added 454 MW of commercial wind power with the vast majority sited in southwestern Minnesota.

Proposed DRG Phase II Sites

Phase II of the study sought an additional 600 MW and found that there were limited locations in the state that could accommodate 10-40 MW generation projects without incurring some amount of transmission investment. So, the study team focused on sites that could potentially accommodate generation with only minor transmission investments, not the construction of new high-voltage transmission routes. The total cost of the transmission upgrades were estimated to be $121 million. In comparsion, the CapX 2020 project for constructing three new high-voltage transmission lines across the state is estimated to cost $1.7 billion.

As a result of the studies, the Minnesota Office of Energy Security concluded that achieving the renewable energy goal calls for a dual strategy of:

  • Using our existing transmission infrastructure more efficiently, through increased energy conservation and efficiency, demand response, emerging efficiency technologies and dispersed renewable generation where it can be interconnected reliably, and
  • Significantly increasing high-voltage transmission capacity in the state.

The studies and explanatory recorded webinars are available from the Minnesota Office of Energy Security on the link below.

Tom Wind (Wind Utility Consulting) acting as a consultant to Windustry served as a member of the Technical Review Committee for both studies.

Seed Grants Available for Community Wind Projects in Minnesota

The Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) is providing financial assistance for energy efficiency and/or renewable energy projects requiring technical assistance. Project funding can support technical assistance services (labor costs only, such as for a consultant, design professional, installer or student labor), for projects in all seven Minnesota CERT regions (Central, Metro, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest and West Central).

All applications are due no later than 4:30pm, November 2nd, 2009.

The primary objectives of this funding project are to:

  1. Encourage the implementation of community‐based energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in CERT regions; and
  2. Provide a forum for community education about energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and their economic, ecological and community benefits.

Funding for these projects is provided through the MN Department of Commerce, Office of Energy Security (OES).

Visit the CERTs website to learn more about this opportunity and to download the application materials. You can also read more about previous projects that were successful in receiving these funds.

Minnesota Transmission Owners Notice of Public Meetings

Minnesota electric utilities with transmission lines in the state are required by law to conduct transmission planning and identify reasonably foreseeable inadequacies in the electric transmission system.  This process is particularly important for local government officials, but the general public is also encouraged to participate, and Community Wind advocates may want to pay particular attention as access to adequate transmission is often a key element for the success of a project.

In order to inform the public of the planning process and to solicit input from the public on possible inadequacies and activities that may affect demand for electricity, a series of webcasts will be held in mid-September.  Each webcast relaties to a discrete portion of the state.  Complete details for dates, times and access can be found in the attachments to this article.  

The Public Utilities Commission requires a report on this planning process every two years.  This is a reporting year, with the report being due November 1.  

Municipal Wind Power in Minnesota

AUGUST 2009, MN - The city of Chaska, Minnesota, will soon have an 80-foot-tall wind turbine generating clean, renewable electricity for local residents and businesses. The Pioneer Ridge Wind Turbine is just one of the eleven turbines that will be installed through the Hometown WindPower program created by the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (MMPA). After holding an open house and a neighborhood meeting to gather citizen input, the Pioneer Ridge Middle School site was chosen after a variety of factors were considered including visibility, proximity to existing power sources, educational value, and impact to neighbors. Construction could begin as soon as September, 2009.

"Hometown WindPower will put power generation right into the community where it will be used."
—Derick Dahlen, Avant Energy

The Hometown WindPower program began in 2006, when MMPA began an ambitious program to locate wind turbines for their 11 member communities across the state of Minnesota. The Agency is owned by its member cities and governed by a board of directors with representatives from each community working together to provide competitively priced, reliable and sustainable energy to their local customers. Now, five of the member communities, Chaska, Anoka, Buffalo, North Saint Paul, and Shakopee, have entered the planning stage for their wind power projects this year.

The program was designed by Avant Energy, a Minneapolis firm that provides services to municipal utilities and public power agencies. "Wind power is most efficient when it can be used at the point of generation, rather than being transmitted many miles away," says Avant Energy president Derick Dahlen. "Hometown WindPower will put power generation right into the community where it will be used, and it will happen using a clean, endlessly renewable source of power."

A turbine in Anoka, recently approved by the city council with a 4-1 vote, will be located near the Anoka High School with construction slated to begin this fall. Buffalo has selected a site at Buffalo High School near the Buffalo water tower. North St. Paul has selected a site by a public works garage. The 165-kilowatt wind turbines with 80-foot towers and 35-foot blades are refurbished machines from California purchased for $300,000 each. Hometown WindPower will help MMPA meet its Minnesota state requirement to achieve a renewable energy standard (RES) of 25 percent by 2025.

Willmar Municipal Utilities wind turbine
 
Willmar Municipal Utilities
wind turbine

Municipal wind power projects are developed by small political subdivisions of cities and townships, rural electrification cooperatives, and other municipal entities or municipally owned corporations that provide electric transmission, distribution or generation services. Advantages of municipal wind power projects include the ability of a local government body to manage the regulatory process and to arrange for public meetings during the planning process along with the use of public lands for siting.

While these projects are much smaller than commercial wind farms with megawatt-scale tubines, they demonstrate how local government and public utilities can provide their own clean energy from sustainable resources. Hometown WindPower is a prime example of how Community Wind is being used in small communities to help keep energy costs stable by creating a long-term fixed price for the power, providing a hedge against rising fuel costs, such as coal and natural gas.

Other Minnesota municipalities are using wind power for these benefits as well.

Willmar Municipal Utilities recently completed construction of two wind turbines that will be used to power about 3% of the city's electric needs. These 262-foot, 2-MW DeWind wind turbines were manufactured in Round Rock, Texas, with blades made in Germany, and the steel tower sections built in Nebraska. The city of Willmar is using bonding to spread out the cost over a 10- to 15-year period. Over the 20-year life of the turbines, the projected cost for each kilowatthour of electricity produced is less than 5 cents.

Capture the Wind Turbines in North Moorhead
Capture the Wind Turbines
in North Moorhead

Moorhead Public Service (MPS) was a pioneer in 1999 erecting a .75-MW wind turbine, followed by a second turbine in 2001. MPS instituted a Capture the Wind program allowing residents and local businesses to help support the municipal wind project by paying additional fees of no more than a half-penny per kWh. This allows customers the opportunity to make a positive environmental choice to support clean, renewable energy by paying a little extra without impacting other customers who do not choose to support the project. The program was so popular that the subscription targets for both turbines were achieved within their first months of being offered, and customers went on waiting lists to join the program with extended offerings.

Loans for Community-Based Wind Projects in Northeastern Minnesota

2009: Duluth, MN - The Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC) and the Northland Foundation have partnered to provide a revolving loan fund that will provide early-stage project development and feasibility analysis for community-based wind energy projects. The revolving loan fund will be available in Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis counties.

The revolving loan fund is part of the Rural Energy Development Initiative (REDI), a state-wide program addressing community-based wind energy development. REDI loan financing is limited to early stage project development and feasibility analysis for wind energy electric generation projects that intend to sell the electricity to an electric utility. Maximum loan size is $25,000 for any one project and/or borrower. ARDC functions as the regional REDI organizer for northeast Minnesota. The Northland Foundation is the acting loan partner for the revolving loan fund. 

For more information regarding the revolving loan fund and/or the application for the loan fund, please see the website or contact Bonnie Hundrieser (ARDC) at 218-529-7527 or bhundrieser@ardc.org

Minnesota Transmission Line to Carry Wind Energy

ST. PAUL, MN, April 16, 2009 — The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MN PUC) has granted the CapX2020 utilities a Certificate of Need to construct three 345-kilovolt electric transmission lines in Minnesota. The three lines will run from Fargo, SD to Monticello, MN; from Hampton, MN  through Rochester, MN to La Crosse, WI; and from Brookings, SD to Hampton, MN.


CapX2020 is a joint project of 11 transmission-owning utilities in Minnesota and the surrounding region led by Great River Energy and Xcel Energy to expand the electric transmission grid. "Today's decision provides direction for new transmission that will ensure customers in and near Minnesota will continue to receive reliable electricity and help provide capacity to meet the nation's most aggressive renewable energy standard," said Terry Grove of Great River Energy.As part of its decision the MN PUC required that 700 megawatts of capacity on the Brookings-Hampton line to be reserved for renewable energy, which will allow electricity generated by wind farms in the Buffalo Ridge area of southwestern Minnesota to be transmitted to the Twin Cities area. Moreover, all will be capable for double circuit transmission lines to allow for increased capacity over time.

Some environmentalists opposed the certificate of need, and other critics were concerned that the transmission lines favor existing large power plants over smaller renewable energy sources that would benefit from a different transmission grid infrastructure that was more widely distributed. The MN PUC decision was a compromise between the various propronents and opponents of the project, and it will have an impact on the ability to connect wind farms to the transmission grid in the Midwest.

“It's clear that significant transmission will be needed to reach Minnesota's Renewable Energy Standard,” commented Beth Soholt, director of Wind on the Wires, “and the Commission took an important step in granting the utilities the ability to construct the pieces of the transmission system that will deliver renewables to Minnesotans.”

The MN PUC has yet to decide on the lines’ routes, with Route Permit applications currently under state review or in development, and decisions are expected in 2010. Regulatory processes are still pending for line segments in Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota; while an additional transmission line has been proposed between Bemidji and Grand Rapids. Construction of the lines could begin in 2012 and take several years to complete.

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