Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Utilities Talk More Wind

Airtricity Chairman Pat Wood, moderator of the "Utility Leadership in Wind Energy Development" session at the WINDPOWER 2007 Conference & Exhibition

Utilities are turning to wind—even as the “centerpiece of their portfolio” in some cases—because customers want it and policy calls for it, said utility and industry officials at the WINDPOWER 2007 Conference & Exhibition on Tuesday.

The opening session at WINDPOWER 2007, “Utility Leadership in Wind Energy Development,” brought together officials from both investor-owned and municipal utilities, in addition to the Bonneville Power Administration. Rounding out the panel was California Independent System Operator President and CEO Yakout Mansour.

“Across the country, the utility embrace of wind power is now a national phenomenon,” said Airtricity Chairman Pat Wood, a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the panel’s moderator. Wood set the stage for the discussion by pointing out that utilities, the entities that ultimately deliver the power to the end user, are a crucial piece of the wind equation. “If the utility industry . . . is not engaged in this effort, we can’t go anywhere,” he said.

Thankfully, many utilities are engaged—for one, Xcel Energy, the No. 1 provider of wind energy to customers in the U.S. The utility will have 2,800 MW in wind capacity for its customers by the end of 2007, said Paul Bonavia, president of Xcel Energy’s utilities group. That number will rise to 6,000 MW by 2020, he said. “We listen to our customers, and they’re telling us this is something that they want and value,” he said. “We would rather take our bet on technologies of the future than on technologies of the past.”

That commitment to the customers is what drives utilities, who are primarily concerned with such issues as reliability and the rates they must charge customers. Bonneville Power Administration Administrator Stephen Wright, who referenced a recent study in which the organization was involved concluding that 6,000 MW of wind is “technically feasible,” expressed concern over the large amount of load growth taking place in several regions of the country at a time when resource constraints are increasing. “We need the wind industry to work with us to make sure we don’t have a reliability crisis and we don’t have a rate crisis,” he said.

The need for new generation resources was echoed by Yakout Mansour, who as the president and CEO of the California Independent System Operator is involved in the state’s quest to achieve its recently enacted ambitious renewable portfolio standard goals. In a mere five years, he said, the state will need to add over 7,000 MW of renewable energy capacity. “I need your help, I need it badly, and I need it now,” he told the audience.

Utility officials were eager to use the forum as an opportunity to communicate such perspectives and needs. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which owns its own wind, is looking for ways to add more wind onto its system through diversifying geographically (its turbines are primarily in one area) and other means. A “wish list” from Sacramento Municipal Utility District General Manager Jan Schori included improved forecasting, a sentiment echoed by Wright. Day-ahead forecasting, Schori said, is “not that good right now.” She also said she would like to see longer warranty and service agreements on turbines and equipment, which she said are more common in Europe. “We need you to think more like a utility,” she said.

Schori also expressed a common theme at WINDPOWER 2007: “We all need to cooperate on the transmission problem.”

As participants acknowledged the needs and challenges ahead, one theme that emerged was how several utilities—namely, those represented on the panel—now consider wind a key piece of their generation mix. Bonavia called wind “the centerpiece of our portfolio.” Asked how more utilities might become more comfortable with adding wind onto their systems, Bonavia said, “We need to have success stories.”

--from the American Wind Energy Association's Wind Energy Weekly, special WINDPOWER 2007 Conference & Exhibition Daily Edition.

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