Kathleen Davis, Associate Editor
Lately, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has felt a bit like Don Quixote: lots of tilting at windmills.
Well, figuratively anyway.
Literally, they have those windmills under tight rein: They’ve finally managed to efficiently harness this natural power. According to an AWEA report complied by Chris Ellison, an attorney and transmission consultant with Ellison, Schneider & Harris in Sacramento, the price tag stuck to wind generation has been steadily declining for over two decades, falling nearly 90% in total. They’re now within spitting distance of coal and gas, but are still hampered by one sticky issue: the grid is fossil-fuel biased.
Describing the transmission grid as “the highway by which generators reach their customers,” the report laments the policies that keep wind generators from reaching their full potential like a coach laying out game strategies. And this is just how we’ll tilt at-and eventually topple-those windmills, it seems to say.
They’re tackling a number of issues all at once, including wind’s lack of stability with generation, the need to locate near the source of power and it’s newness to the market overall. According to the AWEA, these three elements converge to relegate wind into the dark and scattered corners of the electricity marketplace.
“Although the U.S. is well positioned to become a global leader in wind energy, one of the greatest impediments to wind development is the United States could be transmission policy,” wrote Ellison.
“Unless transmission policies become sensitive to those needs [of wind generation], in the same way they are sensitive to the unique characteristics of more established technologies, then transmission policy will favor continued reliance on more polluting technologies and the promise of wind power will not be fully realized,” he continued.
Cattle in SW Minnesota pay no mind to the Zond wind turbines that share their field. Photo by Warren Getz, courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
And wind generators want, more than anything, to shine in the sunlight of the electricity grid. They believe consumers want that as well, pointing to the growing concern with the environment in both U.S. and European policy, although Europe is clearly winning this race. Germany leads the world in installation of wind power with Denmark and Spain close behind. The U.S. has the talent-but not the drive-to cross this finish line, and the AWEA laments America’s lack of aggressive pursuit in the wind arena.
“Texas alone has a greater wind source than Germany,” Ellison penned.
But hitching your wagon to the wind isn’t the real problem for the AWEA; it’s only a “we can do better” cheer. Wind generation can, and has, been done. But now, they can’t get that wagon down the grid “highway” to the consumer. And that’s the rub.
First, there’s that pesky problem with embedded costs, which is often based on distance from a “load center”. If you have to go where the wind takes you, you may end up a significant distance from that “load center”. Hence, such a policy-along with “MW mile” which combines peak use with mileage-hit wind generators in the pocketbook more directly than fossil fuels.
AWEA wants to solve this problem by passing those embedded costs directly to customers (as FERC approved for the California ISO)-evening out the playing field and making distance from a load center less of a factor in the equation.
Next, they’re faced with that wind wagon being rather unpredictable, which puts wind generators at odds with scheduling deviation policies. These often require users to plot in advance portions of their grid use. However, real time use often strays from this schedule in both “instructed deviations” (move the power over here to cover the heat wave) and “uninstructed deviations” (where’d that power get off to now?). In the end, uninstructed deviations can get you an economic spanking.
However, wind’s intermittent quality makes it subject to uninstructed deviations on a fairly regular basis. While you can get pretty good odds that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning, predicting the direction and force of the wind is much more of a sucker bet. So, the AWEA suggests the creation of a real-time market and the elimination of such penalties or the option to schedule grid use as close to real time as possible.
But, that pesky wagon still has a few wrenches left to throw into the works. The AWEA also advocates the elimination of rate “pancaking” (paying more than one toll per owner of the road, depending on how many lines in the sand you have to cross) and “first come, first served” curtailment policies. Their final request is a streamlining of the interconnection process involving an objective third party that takes into account the stature of each Don Quixote and the relative size of the windmill.
“Thus, AWEA endorses the FERC’s decision to make RTOs [regional transmission organizations] the sole authority regarding requests for new interconnections,” Ellison stated.
If the AWEA suggestions are enacted, Don Quixote may finally bring those looming windmills down to size and make them work for their supper-plugging them into the electrical grid and then riding off (with Pancho, of course) into a wind-powered, neon sunset.
The complete AWEA white paper, “Fair Transmission Access for Wind: A Brief Discussion of Priority Issues” is available via the Internet at www.awea.org