Tuesday, January 11, 2005

New Mexico Wind Power

URL: http://www.abqtrib.com/albq/bu_local/article/0,2565,ALBQ_19838_3459266,00.html
Craig FritzTribuneTurbines spin at the New Mexico Wind Energy Center near House in eastern New Mexico. The 204-megawatt wind farm, which is owned by FPL Energy and sells power to Public Service Company of New Mexico, is one of two operating wind plants in the state, with two more under development.Moving the wind
New Mexico is a prime spot for power generation, and the governor sees a market for it outside the state. Getting it there is one of the hurdles in propelling its potential.
By Erik SiemersTribune ReporterJanuary 10, 2005
You can see them from I-40, giant whirligigs dotting the landscape near Tucumcari.
Walter Hornaday's company, Cielo Wind Power in Austin, has built 60 of the wind turbines, mechanisms meant to make a commodity from one of Mother Nature's catalog of products.
By April, Cielo plans to have 20 more turbines running at the 80-megawatt Caprock Wind Ranch.
And by Hornaday's estimates, that barely scratches the surface of the wind power potential in that patch of eastern New Mexico.
"Mother Nature is blowing 85 percent of the time," said Hornaday, Cielo's president. "It's a huge site that has potential of maybe 10 or 20 times what we built here. But we built 80 turbines, and we're completely saturating the transmission capacity within a 60-mile radius."
Gov. Bill Richardson last month proclaimed his commitment to making New Mexico a leader in wind energy transmission.
Richardson, the U.S. energy secretary under President Clinton, sees a market for the state's wind power in energy-thirsty places like California.
But a question remains in how it gets there, and it's one the industry - from wind energy producers to utilities to the regulatory government agencies - is pondering.
"It's a story of lots of potential for wind," Hornaday said of his wind farm, "but it can't be brought to market."
California dreaming
California is a hot place in the summer, and with around 35 million people, it sucks up a lot of energy.
There's no greater evidence of that than the rolling blackouts that occurred in 2001, when a variety of factors - including 100-degree heat - led to heavy energy consumption and depleted reserves.
Some energy experts - including officials at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates interstate utility transmission - say such scenarios could happen again in California.
"There's a real concern here at the commission as we go into next summer that there will be a repeat of the energy shortages like we saw in 2000 and 2001," said FERC spokesman Bryan Lee.
The California Energy Commission is open to new power sources.
"Any electricity that can be added to the grid at the moment is very welcome in California," said Chris Davis, an information officer with the commission.
California's date to reach its goal of having 20 percent of energy come from renewable sources has been pushed back from 2017 to 2010, partly because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks New Mexico can supply some of that power, Richardson has said.
Which, for New Mexico power generators, means a market exists.
With wind becoming a potentially lucrative commodity, the state hopes to position itself as a major wind energy exporter and create an industry to support rural New Mexico communities.
Richardson last month announced he would ask the state Legislature this year to support financing the infrastructure needed to send energy westward.
The governor also, through his Wind Energy Transmission Task Force, could ask for the formation of a body called the Transmission Infrastructure Authority.
The authority would have powers similar to the New Mexico Finance Authority - namely it could issue bonds - but it would include the expertise needed to wade through complicated energy issues, said Robert Castillo, the task force's chairman and administrative services director for the state Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources.
Still, wind being what it is, the inability to predict precisely when it's produced and how much is the cause of other hurdles the power industry is trying to leap.
High-wire act
The Public Service Company of New Mexico has a room inside its Albuquerque power operations center that looks like a command post where space shuttles are launched.
A cluster of video screens form the wall at the front of the room, their neon lights showing a collection of line graphs, maps and figures.
The screens show how New Mexico is using electricity at that moment.
In a room off to the side, PNM employees work as electrical accountants, so to speak, their balance sheet being the grid in which they must maintain certain levels of power.
Monday through Wednesday, they schedule the next day's power usage hour by hour, and on Thursday and Friday they do the same for the weekend.
This is done by accounting for how much capacity has been scheduled by other entities buying space on PNM lines and how much power is used, on average, at the various hours of the day.
Scheduling, however, can be trickier with a variable power source like wind. And utilities can issue penalties when an entity puts more or less energy on the grid than scheduled.
"The issues involved with wind power and transmission in the electrical system in this country is sort of, no-pun intended, a high-wire act," said Lee, the FERC spokesman. "The voltages need to be kept at 60 hertz. But if it dips just a few hundredths of a percent below that or above that, you have power grid reliability problems."
It's a system that tends to work against wind power developers, said Suedeen Kelly of Albuquerque, one of five FERC commissioners.
"Imbalance penalties are very detrimental to wind generators," Kelly said. "By and large, wind generators can't predict specifically how much power they're going to bring."
As a result, Kelly - who was nominated by President Bush in May and sworn in to a five-year term Dec. 7 - said imbalance penalties need to be adjusted to not discriminate against wind generators.
Kelly also said the standard system in which generators reserve power line usage is designed for traditional natural gas or coal plants.
For example, she said a gas-fired generator that produces 200 megawatts of power would lease that amount of capacity on a transmission line to get the power to its destination.
A 200-megawatt wind farm, however, might produce only 30 percent of the time, Kelly said. "The reality is that a wind generator that buys 200 megawatts of capacity only uses it a third of the time, so it costs them a lot more to have that right," she said. "If they could buy 200 megawatts on a short-term basis, it would be much cheaper. But because they have to lease it on a long-term basis, they end up overpaying."
She said that's another issue FERC is studying as a way to increase transportability of wind power.
Western organization
Finally, Kelly said there needs to be coordination between Western states in planning and construction of new transmission lines.
That's because if new lines were to be built to send power from New Mexico to California, she said, they'd traverse various jurisdictional boundaries, with each controlling where power lines are constructed.
Some states have joined forces to create regional transmission bodies that help streamline such developments, an option Richardson last week said he'd be interested in exploring.
"Now, if we are looking at a new system like the governor is, a new trade in clean electricity, we need to have regional coordination and cooperation in the planning and construction of transmission," Kelly said. "That means not only transmission-owning utilities have to coordinate and cooperate but also the states have to coordinate and cooperate."
And if anybody is in a position to facilitate some of this, Kelly said, it's the man holding office in Santa Fe.
Richardson last year was chairman of the Western Governors' Association and is the current chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association - both national platforms he intends to use to benefit New Mexico wind energy, he said last week.
With the Western Governors, he has worked with Schwarzenegger to push a set of ambitious clean-energy goals: produce 30,000 megawatts by 2015 and have a 20 percent improvement in energy-efficiency by 2020.
And with the Democratic Governors' Association he intends to ask Congress for legislation to extend federal tax credits for wind production by periods of five or 10 years.
Congress has granted tax credits for wind production over periods like 14 months, something the American Wind Energy Association says causes "stop-and-go" cycles of investment, said spokeswoman Christine Real de Azua.
The credit was extended again in September and is set to expire in December, Real de Azua said.
Richardson also hopes to push Congress to pass incentives like an investment tax credit for storage products for wind energy.
"But one of the main messages is that the states are going to be the leading innovators of wind technology development," Richardson said last week. "The federal government can be helpful. But the public/private partnerships that come out of state initiatives, Western initiatives, are going to be key."
PNM Chief Executive Jeff Sterba agreed, saying his company could serve several roles.
"We obviously know transmission, know how to operate it, know how to build it, know how to own it," Sterba said. "But where the public sector comes in is helping facilitate the licensing of it, getting through the approval process so you don't end up with a project taking seven to 10 years just to get turned down, because that makes it untenable."
Electrical highway
Beyond the policy initiatives, beyond partnerships, Cielo's Hornaday says what's needed are simply more lines to move the power.
"The governor of New Mexico has been talking about looking beyond just serving New Mexico," Hornaday said. "It's easily done. It just needs to invest in infrastructure to get the energy to market."
The governor's transmission task force issued a report to Richardson two weeks ago saying that with some upgrades, the existing infrastructure can hold an additional 500 megawatts, but only during off-peak hours, said Castillo, the task force chairman.
Anything beyond an extra 500 megawatts on the grid would require additional infrastructure, he said.
Richardson said last month that transmission is a national problem and that the country should tackle the issue much like it did when building the interstate highway system, by investing enough money to bring wind power to population centers.
A big buyer of wind power in New Mexico Xcel Energy of Minneapolis, which has long-term contracts to buy the energy from two Cielo wind farms in the state and a third from a farm owned by Padoma Wind Power of La Jolla, Calif., that is under construction.
Bill Crenshaw, a spokesman for Xcel's office in Amarillo, Texas, agreed that new transmission "highways" are a key solution.
"The governors are all looking for the West Coast markets," Crenshaw said. "There's absolutely no way you can move that resource without constructing pathways that can bring that resource to the marketplace."
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