Load control and wind energy

March 2008

By the time you receive this issue of the Nodak Neighbor, hopefully, we will be past the subzero weather for another winter.

For everyone, this winter has put a strain on the cost of heating homes and businesses. For those who have off-peak heating systems, there is always concern about how often we implement load management and require you to switch to a backup heating system. As it turned out, we had a rough time out of the chute this heating season. Scheduled power plant maintenance didn’t go well, and an eight week planned maintenance project turned into an 11 week project. Worse yet, the power plant was out of service when the heating season was getting into full swing, and we had to use load control much more than expected during that period.

Some of you who have off-peak heating systems may have noticed that the amount of load control dropped off substantially after the first of the New Year. You may also be aware that our power supplier, Minnkota Power Cooperative, brought a large wind farm online about the same time. I have been asked more than once whether or not there is a correlation between the wind farm and less load control. The short answer is, yes, the addition of the 100 megawatt wind farm definitely helped to reduce the need for load control. The next question, obviously, is why don’t we build more wind generation and reduce further the need for so much load control. Minnkota will, in fact, build more wind generation, but it can’t be for the purpose of reducing load control hours. The problem with that logic is price.

While we are getting wind energy delivered at a very good price from the Langdon wind farm, it is still higher priced than what we are charging you for off-peak heating. Wind energy isn’t valuable to Minnkota because we can resell it as interruptible power; it is valuable because it is often less costly than what can be purchased from the regional market. It is also valuable if the wind turbines happen to be generating during peak conditions. There is much more likelihood this will happen during the winter season than the summer season. We often experience peaks in the winter when it is cold and the wind speed is high. In the summer, we often experience peaks when it is hot, humid, and no wind.

Prior to the first of the year, we had a lot of load control related to power plants being out of service. The Langdon wind farm was not online and not available to help us out. However, even if it had been online, it may not have helped because power plant downtime has nothing to do with wind conditions.

The good news is that our total amount of load control this season, even with the rough start, will be pretty much as expected. The projection from Minnkota for load control this heating season was about 350 hours for a dual heating system. Even though things didn’t go as planned, it doesn’t appear the total hours will be much higher and will likely be around 400 hours for the heating season. With that level of load management, a typical homeowner is still getting about 85% of his/her heating requirements from electricity at a very low rate.