July 1, 2010

Wind-generated electricity not yet up to speed

by Diana Pounds

When the turbines began turning on a new wind farm near Zearing in late December, Iowa State officials were looking forward to buying enough wind power to supply 10 percent of the university's electricity needs.

However, five months in, only about 4 percent of ISU's electricity is coming from the wind farm. Assistant director of utilities Jeff Witt said the reduced output is a temporary setback, stemming from transmission lines that can't handle the additional power that the wind farm will add to the electrical grid.

So wind farm operators are curtailing some of the output of the 100-turbine wind farm until new transmission lines are in operation. Some transmission upgrades will be completed in August, and that should allow operators to boost output, Witt said. Other needed transmission upgrades may not be completed till 2012 or 2013.

Witt said that wind farm construction often necessitates transmission line upgrades. The wind farm firms pay for work, which can include replacing poles, installing cables and upgrading substations.

"It can take more time to do that work than to build a farm," he said.

Under a long-term joint contract with the wind-generating company NextEra Energy Resources, the city of Ames will buy 30 megawatts of wind-generated electricity to meet approximately 15 percent of its electricity needs and Iowa State will buy an additional six megawatts. At full capacity, the wind farm should produce 150 megawatts of wind-generated electricity.