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Holding a finger to the wind

An energy expert forecasts a blustery day ahead for the region
By MIKE MILIARD  |  August 19, 2009

Across New England, there's currently less than 150 megawatts worth of wind turbines installed and operational. That's small change compared with what's happening in places such as Texas and California. But it's a whole lot more than existed just a few years ago — and, if trends continue, a whole lot less than what will exist a few years from now.

The Phoenix e-mailed Vamsi Chadalavada, senior vice-president and chief operating officer of ISO New England, the nonprofit company responsible for overseeing the region's electrical grid, to ask him how he sees wind power fitting into in the northeast's renewable energy future.

How would you describe New England's wind resources?
Today, wind and other renewable resources make up just a fraction of our region's resources, but the development of these resources has the potential to skyrocket. Developers have expressed initial interest in building approximately 3100 megawatts of new, renewable resources in New England. Wind makes up about 85 percent of those proposed renewable projects in the region.

I'm guessing we can never be a player in the wind industry on the scale of, say, Texas?
That all depends. Texas appears to have on the order of about 7000 megawatts of wind resources (Source: Wikipedia). Though New England's system today has approximately 100 megawatts of wind resources, our region has tremendous potential for onshore and offshore renewable resource development. To realize this potential, policy, and price are key.

Renewable requirements across the six New England states are projected to increase from nearly 10 percent of total energy in 2009 to 19 percent in 2020. Over the past 10 years, investment in new supply has been concentrated almost exclusively on large, natural-gas-fired power plants. Although we expect natural gas to play a prominent role in our resource mix going forward, policies such as this are creating a growing interest in developing wind and other renewable resources.

The cost of fossil fuel is another factor that will determine to how much wind is built here. Wholesale electricity costs track closely to the cost of the fuels used to produce it. As the cost of oil and natural gas fluctuates, developers will have to assess whether the investment climate makes wind economically attractive to build.

A mighty wind: New England plays catch-up in the green-energy race. By Mike Miliard.

Why wind power blows: Why we shouldn't overload our energy basket with wind eggs. By Deirdre Fulton.

Photos: the Maine wind farm. By Mike Miliard.

What can we reasonably expect from wind power as a way to meet our energy needs?
New England's six governors have asked just that very question, requesting ISO New England's assistance in creating a regional blueprint for the development of renewables.

ISO New England is providing technical support to the states in the governors' initiative to create the New England Governors' Renewable Energy Blueprint. Through this process, regional policymakers hope to identify the available sources of renewable energy both here and in neighboring regions, and determine the most effective means to connect those resources to our power grid.

Recognizing the ISO's successful history of cooperation among those in the region, the six New England governors asked for ISO New England's technical assistance in creating this regional blueprint for the transmission development needed to integrate onshore and offshore renewable resources. In recent months, a team of ISO New England employees has been conducting economic studies on a range of scenarios to integrate large-scale wind resources into the region's electric grid in the 20-year timeframe (around 2030). This initiative is still underway, but, when completed will help the region to better understand the potential for wind development, how best to integrate wind facilities, and the costs associated with this development.

President Obama has called for wind to constitute 20 percent of our energy by 2030; do you think we should expect to see that become a reality here in New England?
While I can't put a specific number on it for New England, and it depends on policy and price, we seem poised to head in that direction.

Is it reasonable to say that wind is the most viable renewable energy source in New England (as opposed to solar, biomass, etc.)?
The long coastline and wind patterns in New England make wind a viable option for the region. In the end, though, we expect a range of renewable resources — including wind, solar, and biomass — will be developed as a part of our energy portfolio.

Is the grid ready right now for an influx of wind energy?
As I mentioned, developers have proposed about 3100 megawatts of renewable projects around the region, and 85 percent of those are wind projects. While not every proposed project actually gets built, we believe it's important to get ahead of the curve and prepare for the large-scale integration of wind. The power output from wind plants is difficult to predict, because the wind varies from minute to minute and day to day, so integrating that variable output into a power system designed to use predictable, dispatchable generation is a challenge.

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Related: Why wind power blows, Mountains, not windmills, Expert: Expanding wind power could unhinge insects, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Barack Obama, Science and Technology, Technology,  More more >
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