Official says bureaucracy keeping wind power from Columbia

Sunday, June 17, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:43 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

In his 25 years in the field of energy transmission, Dan Dasho said he’s never seen a situation so unbelievable.

As part of a voter mandate requiring the city to step up its use of renewable energy, Dasho has been working to get electricity transmitted to Columbia from a wind farm in northwestern Missouri. Dasho, the city Water and Light director, has spent three hours a day for the past two weeks tackling what he calls a bureaucratic mess that threatens to derail efforts to get the wind power to Columbia.

The city has a contract with Associated Electric to transmit seven megawatts of wind power to Columbia — 2 percent of Columbia’s total electric consumption — beginning July 1. But problems have arisen with a regulatory body that governs the electrical transmissions in the Midwest.

The city is negotiating with the Midwest Independent System Operator, or MISO, on alternative ways to have the wind power transmitted to Columbia’s system, including buying unused space on the electrical grid from other utilities.

The problem, Dasho said, is in the amount of energy that MISO will allow in the electrical transmission system. The 7 megawatts of wind power would put the Southwest Power Pool’s system, which is tied to Associated Electric’s system, over capacity by 0.3 megawatts.

“I’m an electrical engineer, and 0.3 megawatts is ridiculous and absurd,” he said.

The city became part of MISO in April 2005. MISO is a not-for-profit organization established in part by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Its role is to help control wholesale power transmission and maintain the power grid in 15 Midwest states and Manitoba, Canada. One of the group’s functions is to prevent large power outages.

In order to transmit energy over any electrical grid in the Midwest, a request must be made to MISO. The organization then fills energy requests on a first-come, first-served basis until transmission capacity is filled.

“Requests are time-stamped and filled regardless of the size of the customer or the use of green energy,” MISO spokesman Todd Hillman said. “You could be a 7-megawatt customer or a 10,000-megawatt customer, but once you’ve exhausted the capability of the system, you’ve reached the capability of the system and that’s a hard number.”

The time-stamp system helps keep energy transmission free and fair to all utilities, Hillman said.

For Dasho, it’s not the time-stamp process that’s a problem, but the 0.3 megawatts of electricity that the wind energy request would exceed. The 0.3 megawatt overage might not even exist, Dasho said, because it’s not uncommon for companies to buy space on the electrical grid that they don’t actually use.

“Two years ago, before MISO, we would have sat down with the engineers at Associated and they would have said OK,” he said.

Dasho said his problems with MISO have been minimal in the last year, but when the city first became involved with MISO in 2005, it was a disaster. The new system was meant to increase reliability and save money, but Dasho said he doesn’t think the organization does either for its members.

“It’s things like this that make me wonder if its worth it to be in MISO,” he said.

Starting in February 2008, Columbia has a 20-year plan with Associated and MISO to receive 7 megawatts of wind energy from the King City wind farm, which is owned by Wind Capital Group. From that point on, Dasho said, there should not be any problems like the ones he is currently experiencing in securing transmission space.

“I’m just trying to get us from now to February 2008,” he said.

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