Sunday, February 18, 2007

Region emerges as a leader in renewable power sources

Region emerges as a leader in renewable power sources
By Sarah Light, staff writerSaturday, February 17, 2007 2:47 PM CST

Last week, the Minnesota state Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation requiring most utility companies to generate at least 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.Electric utilities such as Xcel Energy Inc. would be required to gather 30 percent from those sources by 2020.Renewable energy includes electricity from solar, wind, hydrogen, biomass and hydroelectric sources.If the initiative passes both the House and the governor, it could place Minnesota into the limelight for renewable energy legislation across the nation and make the state a leader in the country for these efforts, said state Sen. Dan Sparks. Twenty-one other states have already passed similar legislation.The legislation gives a timeline for utility companies, stating that by 2012 they should obtain 12 percent of their power from renewable sources, by 2020 obtain 20 percent and then by 2025 obtain 25 percent.For companies such as Xcel — which provides about half of the state’s electricty — this timeline would be higher.
Sparks said when the bill was moving through the Senate, there was discussion as to whether the initiative would be feasible for utility companies and for residents.“Most of the energy companies want to move toward that energy standard, but we just wanted to make sure it was attainable,” Sparks said. “Everyone’s going to say they’re for renewable energy, but we need to look at whether this will be affordable to our local rate payers. We need to look at the whole picture when we’re putting public policy several years into the future.”Because of this, the bill includes a portion that will allow the state’s Public Utilities Commission the ability to modify the timeline if there is a “significant rate impact” on customers. The bill passed the Senate 61-4.Kenric Scheevel, with government relations for Dairyland Power Cooperative — of which Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services is a part —said although it will be difficult to reach the new standard, he is optimistic that utilities will be able to achieve the goal.“Make no doubt about it, that is going to be a challenge for the utilities,” Scheevel said. “I think there will be some bumps in the road, but ultimately we will get there.”Dairyland Power Cooperative, which is headquartered in La Crosse, Wisc., provides wholesale electrical requirements and services for 25 electric distribution cooperatives and 19 municipal utilities throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan. Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services is one of those cooperatives.“We have the opportunity to be a leader,” said Tim Thompson, president of Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services. “We already have the biodiesel right here, we have the ethanol right here and now the hydroelectric right here.”
In light of the legislation moving through the state government, Bob Crowell, Midwest development director for Horizon Wind Energy, said he, too is optimistic that the initiative can be reached.“There’s lots of good, windy sites and transmission in Minnesota, as well as some stuff that’s still on the drawing board,” Crowell said.Horizon Wind Energy is a company that develops and operates wind farms throughout the United States.In the spring, it will start construction for the Prairie Star Wind Farm just 15 miles southeast of Austin, which will consist of 61 wind turbines. These turbines have the capacity of generating 362,000 megawatt hours of energy to power about 36,000 Minnesota homes. The project should be complete by the end of the year.“We are very excited about what’s going on in Minnesota,” he said. “We’re very excited about starting construction. It’s a great time to be a part of the wind industry.”He noted that Minnesota’s wind resources are stronger than most of the similar resources in the Midwest.The recent Minnesota legislation came around the same time that President George W. Bush allocated $1 billion to renewable energy into the 2008 fiscal budget.
The 2008 budget request includes $179 million for the Biofuels Initiative, which is organized to help the country reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years. During the 2006 State of the Union address, Bush set a national goal to replace more than 75 percent of the country’s oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.“We’re excited to see all this legislation,” said Exol General Manager Rick Mummert. “America needs to become wiser users of our energy sources.”