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The Grid: Wind power generation growing, but transmission lags

Billions of dollars in transmission lines will have to be built before the nation's wind resources, which are concentrated in the center of the country, can be fully exploited by large population centers to the east and west.
by Paul Monies Published: September 1, 2013

To help the siting of its projects, Clean Line has been granted public utility status in several states, including Oklahoma. While the company prefers to work with affected landowners on easements, it can use a utility's eminent domain power as a last resort. As a backstop, it is pursuing federal eminent domain under a 2005 law to promote transmission projects.

Policymakers must balance the need for new transmission projects and the rights of landowners.

“People are generally receptive to the development of wind projects, but are sometimes less receptive when construction begins nearing their property,” said Jay Albert, Oklahoma's deputy secretary of energy. “But if you want to bring additional wind generation capacity online, transmission is a key factor, and it is something we have to work to accommodate.”

Regional planning

SPP's integrated transmission planning process looks at short-term needs and projections for 10 years and 20 years into the future. To maintain system reliability, companies proposing new generation — from any fuel source — have to get in line and pay for studies to see how the generation would affect electrical infrastructure in the region. In many cases, SPP requires additional investment in substations, transformers or other equipment.

“Some of that (transmission) construction is done in anticipation of these projects, and some of the generation is already up and running before those transmission projects are completed,” Gaw said. “There may be some exposure to curtailments that hopefully the completion of these transmission projects will help rectify.”

Gaw said recent wind curtailments in the SPP were related to repairs or upgrades of several transmission lines in parts of the region, including western Kansas in the spring. Utilities typically make major repairs or try to complete upgrades in the spring or fall. The SPP has a working group studying maintenance schedules and how they can affect transmission from wind generators, he said.

The variable nature of wind energy remains its biggest obstacle to effective integration into the grid, according to a November report by the North American Electric Reliability Corp., which is in charge of reliability in the United States, Canada and parts of Mexico. New wind forecasting tools and technology will help that integration.

“Unpredictability remains the largest obstacle in effectively integrating wind energy into SPP's generating mix,” the report said.

“As wind speeds change, utilities must instantaneously switch to and from other generating resources to compensate for this variability. Increasing the capability to forecast wind's time, location and speed will significantly enhance operators' ability to reliably manage the grid.”

by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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