Delays stop city from purchasing wind power

Negotiations for an energy buy continue despite a contracted July 1 start date.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:58 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wind power was supposed to become part of Columbia’s energy mix on Sunday, but delays at the wind farm providing the electricity and ongoing bureaucratic holdups stand in the way.

Wind turbines at the King City farm in northwest Missouri are up and running, but the electricity is not yet available for Columbia to purchase because of testing delays, said Nancy Southworth, a spokeswoman for Associated Electric Cooperative.

Columbia, meanwhile, continues to negotiate with the regulatory body that oversees power transmission in the Midwest about whether there is enough space in the regional electrical grid to get the wind power to Columbia.

Dan Dasho, Columbia’s Water and Light director, said that although delays at the wind farm allow more time to work out a solution, he is far less hopeful than he was two weeks ago, when negotiations with Midwest Independent System Operator, or MISO, began.

“I am worried that we won’t be able to get the wind power until February 2008,” Dasho said.

Negotiations between Columbia Water and Light and MISO have been ongoing for almost four months, and Dasho said the talks haven’t progressed.

At this point, MISO is offering a “non-firm” contract for wind energy delivery, meaning the electricity would be transmitted when there is space on the grid. Columbia would be the first customer to be cut if transmission space wasn’t available, Dasho said.

Connie Kacprowicz, spokeswoman for Columbia Water and Light, said the city is still hoping to work with MISO and look at other options to get the wind energy delivered.

As for delays at the wind farm, Kacprowicz said they should be resolved in 30 to 60 days. Wind Capital Group, which owns the Missouri wind farm, has to declare the power commercially available before it can be used by Columbia.

Despite the July 1 contract start date with Associated Electric for wind energy delivery, the contract will not begin until wind-generated electricity is available, Dasho said.

“Associated has been very understanding with us while we are working with MISO. It’s been a very amicable relationship,” Kacprowicz said.

The city has a contract with Associated Electric to transmit 7 megawatts of wind-generated electricity to Columbia — 2 percent of the city’s total electric consumption.

The problem lies in the amount of energy that MISO will allow in the electrical transmission system. The 7 megawatts would put the Southwest Power Pool’s system, which is tied to Associated Electric’s system, 0.3 megawatts above its capacity.

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, maintain the power grid and prevent large power outages in 15 Midwest states and Manitoba, Canada.

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.

Kacprowicz said the city might have to buy energy off the wholesale market to cover the 7 megawatts of energy that it is missing — a common practice in the summer.

“We generally have to buy power on the wholesale market to cover the summer load,” she said.

The spring and fall are more favorable for wind energy. Summer months are especially unreliable.

“Even with the 7 megawatts of wind energy, we can’t be very dependent on it during the summer months. It’s not a dependable source of energy in the summer months,” Kacprowicz said.

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