Willmar Municipal Utilities (WMU) in central Minnesota is building a power supply that parallels the state’s renewable portfolio standard of 25 percent renewables by 2025, even though the standard only applies to power generators.
The small (9,600 meters), independent distribution utility is acquiring renewables because consumers are concerned about the environment, said WMU General Manager John Harren. “It is becoming the expectation of our customers,” he stated in an interview with a local newspaper.
The renewable share of Willmar Municipal’s power supply is currently at 22 percent. The town’s own wind turbines generate 2 percent, WAPA hydropower represents 13 percent and a mix of contracts with multiple generators makes up the balance. Because the Minnesota RPS only allows hydropower from facilities under 100 megawatts (MW), the WAPA allocation would not count toward the 25-percent goal if WMU was subject to the law.
Started with wind Willmar Municipal took its first steps toward expanding its renewable supply beyond hydropower in 2009 by building two wind turbines, each with a 2-MW capacity. The estimated payback on the $10-million project is 10 to 15 years.
Initially, the turbine manufacturer DeWind Company of Texas was responsible for service and repairs. However, Willmar Municipal took over operation in August of 2014, training seven of its own employees to climb the turbines and perform maintenance. Local control resulted in more timely service and increased generation in 2015.
Power Supply Manager Chris Carlson said, “We’re making a good faith objective to build up our renewable portfolio.”
The rest of the utility’s power comes from the traditional sources of gas, coal and nuclear. “Even if we had a full fleet of renewables, there will always be a need for some sort of fuel supply for backup sources,” Carlson observed, “for times when there’s no wind or sunshine.”
Proceeding with caution Pursuing clean energy for its consumers, rather than mandates, gives Willmar Municipal the time to carefully consider the advantages and drawbacks of each opportunity. Contracts with power suppliers have been instrumental in adding renewables, primarily wind and renewable energy certificates. As WMU procures additional purchased power agreements, emphasis will be placed on renewables.
Solar generation is growing more slowly in the Upper Great Plains than in sunnier parts of WAPA’s territory, due to the region’s low utility rates and less robust resource. So far, there is only one customer-owned solar array on Willmar Municipal’s system. However, WMU will consider including a solar garden on a new municipal facility it hopes to build, Carlson noted. “Adding solar will increase our costs, so we want to make sure we have a handle on our power supply before we move forward,” she explained.
Carlson expects the percentage of renewables to continue to grow, even as the city’s load remains stable. “If gas prices go through the roof 10 years from now due to the retirement of fossil fuel plants, we could still hedge our costs with renewables that have zero fuel costs,” she pointed out. “That’s one of the reasons why we aim for a diversified portfolio,” Carlson added.
A decade of striving to build a clean energy portfolio culminated in success for Aspen, Colorado,when the city recently announced that its municipal electric utility now receives all of its power from renewable sources.
A contract the city signed in late August with its power wholesaler Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN) replaces coal power—about 20 percent of Aspen’s electricity supply—with wind energy. The MEAN purchase, which put Aspen over the finish line, will initially add less than $2 per month to the average residential utility bill.
Aspen Utilities and Environmental Initiatives Director David Hornbacher praised MEAN, noting, “If it weren’t for MEAN we couldn’t be in this position. The members (of MEAN) are valued and proactive – this is a win-win for both organizations.”
Mixing it up The City of Aspen Utilities energy portfolio consists of about 53 percent wind power and 46 percent hydroelectricity, with small amounts of solar and landfill gas. The wind comes through MEAN from wind farms in the Nebraska cities of Kimball, Ainsworth, Bloomfield, Petersburg and Crofton Bluffs, and one in Wessington Springs, South Dakota. In addition to an allotment from Western, generators on Ruedi Reservoir, Maroon Creek and Ridgway Reservoir make up the hydropower portion.
“The challenge is to secure the most effective mix of renewables to meet the customer load reliably,” Hornbacher explained. “Each community’s energy use is unique, and each renewable energy source has its own personality.”
Getting the right mix means more than just resources, Hornbacher added. “The key is projects, conservation and efficiency and partners,” he said. “We are lucky to have such willing and supportive partners in MEAN, NREL [National Renewable Energy Laboratory] and Western.”
NREL worked with Aspen, MEAN and other agencies to define renewable energy, determine what projects would best fit with Aspen’s load and evaluate the utility’s conservation and efficiency measures. Those tools include a renewable energy mitigation program, green building code, tiered rate structure and energy performance contracting. “If you aren’t working with customers and managing your load, you could wind up using more energy,” said Hornbacher.
Community driven Customer support for a local renewable energy supply dates back to the 1980s when the Aspen city council decided to build the plants at Ruedi Reservoir and Maroon Creek. The community formalized the plan to go 100-percent renewable 10 years ago. “Aspen residents have always had very strong environmental values,” said Hornbacher. “It helps to live in a town where the civic leadership is representative of the community.”
Smaller municipalities so far have a clear edge on large metropolitan areas in “going green.” The mountain resort town of 7,000 joins Burlington, Vermont, (pop. 45,000) and Greensburg, Kansas,(pop. 800) in becoming the first cities in the nation to reach the all-renewable energy goal. Georgetown, Texas, (pop. 47,000) plans to follow these leaders next year with a 25-year contract to buy 150 megawatts (MW) of clean power from new SunEdison solar plants.
Hornbacher noted that being small is not necessarily an advantage, although a smaller load opens up the possibility of fitting smaller projects into the portfolio. “It is important to note that each of these communities took a different course to reach their goal. You have to look carefully at your own situation,” he cautioned. “One important takeaway is that renewable energy does not automatically translate to higher rates. Aspen’s residential rates are still among the lowest in the state.”
Going above, beyond Aspen’s vision does not stop at the city limits, however. Hornbacher hopes the city’s accomplishment will spark a dialogue on the state level and challenge other municipalities to engage with their energy supply.
The media beyond Colorado have taken notice as well. Television stations from California, Utah and China have interviewed the utility to find out how a small town in Colorado achieved the big goal of shifting its energy supply to renewable resources. “We’ve demonstrated that it is possible,” Hornbacher said. “Realistically, we hope we can inspire others to achieve these higher goals.”
That is the kind of attention Western likes to see its customers receive. We congratulate the city of Aspen on setting their sights high, sticking to their plan and creating a clean, reliable energy future.
This webinar will highlight the services and operations of the California Independent System Operator, the West’s only organized regional transmission market. Participants will gain an understanding of the emerging Energy Imbalance Market (EIM) and its governance, and how the EIM supports wind integration.
The emerging EIM offers Western utilities new market opportunities—and challenges—to integrate wind power and other renewables onto their systems. The industry expects the EIM to improve reliability and lower the cost of renewable energy integration.
Scheduled speakers include Don Fuller, a CAISO representative, who will provide an overview of services and operations of the independent system operator’s organized market. Fuller will contrast CAISO to how other balancing authorities operate in the Western Interconnection. The presentation will highlight the EIM service now being offered to utilities and BAs outside the CAISO footprint.
Rebecca Wagner, Nevada Public Utilities commissioner and chair of the EIM Transitional Committee will provide her perspective on expanding the EIM. Wagner’s presentation will also cover how the market governance will allow parties outside of California to have a formal role in the EIM development.
Register today to learn more about how the emerging EIM can benefit your utility. The webinar will take place from 3 to 4:30 p.m.
Afterward, the presentations will be posted on the 4CWRC website. For questions or more information contact Meghan Dutton.
[Editor’s note:This story is the first in a series of overviews of the different types of renewable resources and how they fit into the generation mix.]
Western’s Renewable Energy Program is dedicated to helping our customers diversify their resource portfolios by providing information and technical assistance to evaluate their options. No single resource or mix works for every power provider, and even if two different utilities choose the same resource, each will gain different benefits and face different challenges. That being said, there is one renewable that leads the pack: wind.
Second only to hydropower in installed capacity, wind represents 27 percent of the nation’s renewable generation and supplies 4 percent of our total electricity. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) wind’s share of the nation’s electric power portfolio has increased 121 percent over the last three years, and is expected to continue as the fastest growing form of generation.
There are now 61,327 megawatts (MW) of installed wind capacity in the United States and more than 46,000 wind turbines. Installed capacity in Western’s territory alone totals more than 26,000 MW and includes the second- and third-largest wind producing states, California and Iowa respectively.
The top 10 rural electric cooperatives with wind capacity on their system are all generation and transmission cooperatives, including several Western customers. Basin Electric Power Cooperative placed first in 2012, with 716 MW of total wind capacity, and Great River Energy earned the number three spot on the list with 474 MW. Their successful wind programs have earned both utilities the Wind Cooperative of the Year award.
A standout resource Some of the advantages wind power boasts are common to other types of renewables—low greenhouse gas emissions, free domestic fuel supply, local job creation—while others are unique to the resource. One feature of wind that does not get enough attention is that it uses far less water than many other types of generation. Water consumption per megawatt-hour for wind is almost zero (solar or dry-cooling gas plants are similar), compared to around 1,000 gallons for coal, oil or concentrating solar power with recirculating cooling.
Cost is another factor that sets wind apart from other resources. It is one of the lowest-priced renewable energy technologies available, costing between two and six cents per kilowatt-hour, depending upon the wind resource and project financing and ownership structure of the particular project. Wind also offers economic development opportunities for rural areas. Growers can lease their land for turbines and still produce crops and livestock, since the towers have a relatively small footprint.
Nothing’s perfect Like all forms of energy, both renewable and nonrenewable, wind has its share of challenges as well as benefits that each utility must assess based on individual circumstances.
Intermittency is the concern that most readily comes to mind for the average consumer, and it is certainly true that wind does not blow all the time. More accurate weather forecasting programs, affordable utility-scale storage and a more flexible grid would go a long way toward addressing the issue. Many research programs at national laboratories and universities are focusing on developing new technologies and improving existing systems to integrate wind onto the grid.
In the meantime, the utility industry is accustomed to dealing with the inherently variable nature of the power system. Those operational strategies are applied to wind, allowing the grid to balance constantly changing demand needs, whether the generation is coal, gas or wind. Some utilities are using demand response—cycling controlled loads on and off during peak demand—to match the load to the generation. Controlled super-insulated electric water heaters can use off-peak wind generation to heat water overnight and store it for use the next day. Plug-in electric vehicles may one day offer another load that can “bank” wind power.
In any case, the more wind we place on the system, the more complicated it becomes to balance load with resources cost effectively. Western and the industry are working hard to address these issues.
Perhaps a greater challenge to wind development is that many areas with the best resources are located far from the load. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 gave Western borrowing authority for transmission projects intended to connect renewable energy facilities to load demand. The Transmission Infrastructure Program (TIP) is currently partnering on several projects with at least one geographical point in Western’s territory.
Not a problem Along with real challenges, wind is beset by several misconceptions that are ripe for a little myth-busting.
The belief that wind turbines are unusually harmful to birds is a persistent myth that scientific studies do not support. Most research indicates that urban sprawl, buildings, house cats and the climatic changes are bigger threats to bird habitats. The National Audubon Society has stated its strong support for wind power as a clean alternative energy source that reduces the threat of global warming.
Noise pollution, likewise, is a concern, but credible peer-reviewed scientific data and various government reports have not shown links between wind turbine noise and negative health impacts. Some opponents of wind power have pointed to infrasound, or sound below the threshold of human hearing, as a hazard. However, researchers at the University of Massachusetts found no credible evidence of physiological or psychological effects resulting from exposure to low-level noise.
To put turbine noise in context, at a distance of 300 meters, the turbine will have the sound pressure of 43 decibels. The average air conditioner can reach 50 decibels of noise, and most refrigerators run at around 40 decibels. For a person living half a mile from a wind turbine, the noise would blend in with other background noise, and a mile away, no noise would be heard.
None of these facts are intended to imply that wind power has no environmental impacts—all forms of generation do. However, renewable energy is at a stage where the technologies are rapidly evolving to become safer and more efficient. As the industry grows, so does its knowledge of the impacts and the ability to mitigate them.
A final word Renewable resources are not a “one-size-fits-all” answer to energy independence. The purpose of Western’s Renewable Resource and Energy Services programs is to help our customers determine what resources are right for their needs.
Just a few factors that affect a utility’s choice include geographical location, state regulations and mandates, energy prices in the area and the makeup of its customer base. To learn more about renewable resources, contact Program Manager Randy Manion. For assistance with long-range portfolio planning, contact Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman or your regional Energy Services representative.
The American Wind Energy Association is inviting regional stakeholders to participate in the 2014 Colorado Wind Energy Forum on Oct. 1, 2014, at the University of Denver.
Colorado is on the forefront of wind energy expansion, making it an ideal location for a state-level wind forum. It consistently ranks among the top 10 wind energy states in the country, with installed wind capacity of more than 2,300 MW. In economic terms, that represents an impressive $4 billion in wind investments. At this scale, wind is increasingly cost-competitive, and utilities like Xcel are purchasing more wind power in Colorado to lock in fixed, low-price electricity to save consumers money.
Attendees at the second annual forum can look forward to exploring the current wind market landscape, business opportunities, environmental and political challenges and economic benefits related to wind energy in Colorado. Speakers will cover new developments and different perspectives including EPA’s release of the draft carbon regulations; the implementation of SB252, which expanded the state’s renewable energy standard; and the development of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Vision and its implications for Colorado.
The lunch table topics, last year’s most popular session, gives participants the opportunity to focus on the details in smaller groups. Experts will lead discussions on topics ranging from wind basics and myths to state and national policy to the latest technology developments.
A reception immediately following the forum will continue the dialogue, foster networking and bring partners together to further Colorado’s wind future.
The conference agenda is designed to appeal to stakeholders from all facets of the wind industry. Policy makers, manufacturers, community leaders, financial professionals and power providers should plan to commit one day to acquiring relevant, current, pivotal information related to Colorado’s wind energy landscape. Register online, or contact Larry Flowers, 720-635-4741, for more information. Sponsorship opportunities are also available.
The 2014 Public Power Wind Award honors one public power utility for its leadership in wind power. All utilities that are members of the American Public Power Association (APPA) are eligible. Anyone may nominate a public power utility, and self-nominations are allowed. There is no cost to participate. The Department of Energy Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach initiative sponsors the 2014 Public Power Wind Award in partnership with APPA.
This year marks the twelfth anniversary of the award. Past winners are Snohomish County Public Utility District, Southern California Public Power Authority, Palo Alto Utilities, Denton Municipal Electric, CPS Energy, Princeton Municipal Light Department, Nebraska Public Power District, Cowlitz and Klickitat PUDs, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Waverley Light and Power, town of Hull, Fort Collins Utilities, Austin Energy, and Aspen Municipal Electric.
Western, the Department of Energy and the American Public Power Association (APPA) are looking for a public power utility that has distinguished itself in wind power leadership for the 2013 Public Power Wind Award. Nominations are due March 25, 2013.
This marks the 11th year DOE, APPA and Western have collaborated on the Wind Cooperative of the Year award. The Public Power Wind Award provides recognition to public power utilities that have helped make the United States a leader in wind power. Previous winners include: Palo Alto Utilities, Denton Municipal Electric, CPS Energy, Princeton Municipal Light Department, Nebraska Public Power District, Cowlitz and Klickitat PUDs, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Waverley Light and Power, town of Hull, Fort Collins Utilities, Austin Energy, and Aspen Municipal Electric.
A panel of experts from the power and wind industries evaluate nominees in four areas:
Benefits to customers
All APPA member utilities are eligible to apply. Anyone can nominate a public power utility, and self-nominations are allowed. Nominations must be submitted by close of business on March 25, 2013, to Randy Manion, Western Area Power Administration, P.O. Box 28123, Lakewood, CO 80228-8213.
This year’s winner will be recognized at the APPA National Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, the week of June 14, 2013.
To all the factors students and parents use to evaluate colleges—academics, sports, financial aid, even fire safety—you can now add sustainability, and place the University of Utah (UU) in Salt Lake City among the leaders.
On its January 2012 list of Top 20 Colleges and Universities for green power purchases, the EPA Green Power Partnership ranked UU third nationally, just behind University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University. In the 2011-2012 Green Power Challenge, the university leads the second-place PAC-12 Conference, purchasing more than 98 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of wind power.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that UU green power purchases are equivalent to more than 36 percent of its energy use. “Green power purchases allow us to reduce our footprint even further in a cost effective way,” said UU sustainability coordinator Jen Colby. “It’s an honor to be in the top five nationally.”
Logistics of the purchase
UU is lowering its carbon footprint by buying renewable energy certificates (RECs) from wind farms through REC marketer 3Degrees. “We looked at all the options and wind power was the most affordable,” explained Ashley Patterson, outreach coordinator for UU’s Office of Sustainability.
The purchase of Green-e certified RECs is funded by fees and donations the university collects through various renewable energy campaigns. UU retains formal ownership of the offsets, making the donations from non-students tax deductible.
Students started it As often happens on college campuses across the country, students set UU on the path toward renewable energy leadership. In 2005, the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) launched a campaign to create a small student fee to pay for clean energy purchases. All of UU’s 32,000 students now pay $1.00 “green” fee to support the purchase of renewable energy.
About a year after the ASUU renewable energy campaign started, Dr. Chris Hill of the biochemistry department started a similar campaign for the staff and faculty. Currently, that renewable energy campaign has about 200 donors. Other UU departments, programs and annual events followed with their own campaigns to support renewable energy and achieve climate neutrality. There are now more than 40 renewable energy campaigns on campus that accept voluntary contributions from faculty, staff, alumni and the public.
The large scale of the program helps keep the price of the RECs down to $3 per megawatt-hour (MWh). The typical U.S. household with the average annual use of 10 MWh, can offset its entire electricity consumption for $30 premium per year—less than a 5-percent increase in a typical Utah residential electricity bill.
Other sustainability measures Of course, no form of energy is so affordable that a large institution can afford to waste it, which is why UU has an Energy Management Office. The office targets three areas to reduce energy consumption: building performance, energy conservation and behavioral initiatives.
Tracking utility data, re-commissioning building systems, implementing retrofit projects and leveraging utility incentives to fund improvements are all part of UU’s energy management strategy. Efficiency upgrade projects include retrofitting T12 lighting, adding automated lighting controls, implementing IT software and upgrading HVAC ducting to improve distribution. The energy savings from these improvements accumulated between July 2007 and January 2012 total 183,931,251 kilowatt-hours, 593,795 decatherms of natural gas, 35,392,000 pounds of steam and 1,363,531 million British thermal units.
Campus-wide energy-efficiency projects are an important source of energy savings, too. The Energy Office has and assisted with grant applications for photovoltaic installations. Providing design assistance to build efficiency into new facilities, and working with power providers to obtain rebates and incentives are also part of UU’s energy conservation strategy.
Efficient buildings and systems work best if occupants understand and use the features, so the Energy Office also has an outreach program to build energy awareness. Facilities managers receive training in the proper operation of system controls. A behavioral specialist is available to consult with “green teams” around campus to educate students, faculty and staff about simple energy-saving habits and measures.
As important as energy use is, UU recognizes that there is still more to creating a “green” university. The UU Office of Sustainability also supports recycling efforts, water conservation, local and organic dining options, low-impact transportation and more. Students can also enroll in sustainability-related courses and programs, and explore new ideas and technologies at the Sustainability Research Center. The Student Campus Initiative Fund, another student-led initiative, collects a $2.50-per-semester student fee to fund grants for students to put their energy-efficiency and conservation ideas into action on campus and in the community.
Preparing for the future These efforts, along with the renewable energy purchase, have landed UU on the Princeton Review’s list of 311 Green Colleges for three years in a row. The national guide is published to aid prospective students in choosing a college.
The reason the Princeton Review includes sustainability in its evaluation goes beyond mere idealism. Students understand that renewable energy offers a career path, as demonstrated by the two undergraduates who started the wind power campaign. One is now working for Utah Clean Energy, and the other is associate director of the California Geothermal Energy Collaborative at the UC Davis Energy Institute.
A great basketball team may still attract more students than a strong “green” program, but students want to prepare for the future, too. With its forward-looking sustainability program and renewable energy purchases, University of Utah is schooling the competition in that game.
An executive at GE stated a few years ago, that “wind is not a science project anymore,” meaning, of course, that wind technology had become a reliable, mainstream resource for utilities. The same is true of photovoltaic systems. By the time today’s fourth-graders graduate high school, wind and solar power could well make up 20 percent or more of most utility resource portfolios. So what can utilities do to introduce school kids to the resources that will be a part of their not-too-distant energy future?
This webinar explores how community-owned utilities nationwide are helping to bring working renewable energy demonstration projects and curricula to local schools and how you can join them—whether your utility prefers to own the generation or to facilitate school- or third-party ownership.
Speakers will share current success stories of consumer-owned utilities that encourage renewable energy in the schools, including a school-based wind projects in Iowa and South Dakota and school-based solar projects at co-ops and public power utilities nationwide. Larry Flowers, who helped initiate the Wind Energy for Schools program for US DOE and is now promoting school programs through the American Wind Energy Association will talk about his experience working with electric co-ops and public power. Jill Cliburn, a regular contributor to the Clean Energy Ambassadors’ blog, brings her field experience to a discussion of School Solar Best Practices, including using voluntary subscriptions, low-cost financing and power purchase agreements to help support school solar projects.
CEA Webinars are held from 12-1 pm Central time (11 a.m. – noon Mountain Time) on the third Tuesday of each month. Because they are focused on the needs of consumer-owned utilities primarily in the Midwest and Plains states, the discussion can be specific, candid and informal. Register today for this free webinar to secure your place.
Wyoming state officials announced last week that construction will begin this spring on a $40 million wind tower manufacturing facility near Cheyenne, Wyo. The Spanish-based Corporacion Gestamp and Ohio-based Worthington Industries will co-own the facility, which is expected to create about 150 new jobs.
The 30-acre facility will reportedly produce 300 steel wind tower sections annually and support a growing wind generation industry in Wyoming and Northern Colorado. While most of the towers will be used to build wind turbines in Wyoming, Worthington also plans to ship tower sections to northern Colorado, the Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest.
A recent Federal study predicted wind energy development could pump $5.1 billion into Wyoming’s economy during the next decade, but analysts say the emergence of a wind energy manufacturing sector could be an even bigger boost to the state’s economy. A spokesman for the Wyoming Business Council said the council will try to “leverage” the Gestamp/Worthington announcement to attract more wind manufacturers to the state. The hope is that building up the wind industry might help to even out the boom-bust cycle that is the nature of the coal, oil and natural gas industries — and therefore, much of Wyoming’s economy.