Monday, January 28, 2008

Midwest Monday: Want a Turbine? Get in Line for 612 YEARS

The Midwest has the worst backlog of wind energy projects in the nation. And that's an understatement: The line of applications waiting to be processed could technically take more than 600 years.

What's the deal? There are hundreds of proposals - 306 to be exact - waiting to be approved by the Midwest Independent Transmission System (MISO). According to federal regulations, when MISO receives a wind power proposal, it has to locate any point along the transmission grid that's already maxed out, put a dollar figure on the work needed at those points, then give that bill to a developer. The developer has three years to decide whether to go ahead with the project. In the meantime, the other applicants in MISO's 15-state service area have to sit and wait.

The number of small wind projects have overwhelmed the agency and federal regulations make the process a first-come, first-serve deal. So technically, MISO staff should spend two years on one project before moving on to the next one. Hence the 306 requests in queue taking theoretically 612 years to process.

Obviously, we don't have that kind of time. MISO is adapting new procedures to get the queue taken care of in
50 years instead of 600. And in the next few months, it will ask federal regulators to approve new processes to speed up the procedure even more.

The slowdown is certainly costing developers.
Ryan Wolf of southwestern Minnesota has been waiting two years to build 27 wind turbines. He told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he and his partners have $100,000 in expenses tied up with MISO, plus legal fees, permits, and land agreements. There is a shortage of wind turbines too, which is driving up costs as developers like Wolf sit and wait.

Clearly, the push of renewables has to have the infrastructure to move the projects along. An updated transmission grid, human power and the processes to implement it all efficiently are the unsexy nuts and bolts needed to transform our energy system.


Unknown said...

It seems like the oil controlled federal government is deliberately slowing down the process. The first step is to lower the cost of oil and make everyone forget. The second step is stall the approval process of new wind projects. The 3rd step to lose their souls in hell.

Maria Surma Manka said...

Mike - government bureaucracy (rather than an oil conspiracy) seems to be the major culprit here. The siting, permitting, and landowner issues of these lines are incredibly tedious and time-consuming. Let's hope that any federal stimulus plan includes transmission construction projects and ways to get these projects fast-tracked.

Matthew said...

Do you think there's anything the Obama administration can or will do to speed up this process? For that matter, is there anything we can do?

Maria Surma Manka said...

Good question Matt. New transmission lines and grid updates are a specific priority of Obama's budget, so that's encouraging. Furthermore, there's discussion about the role of states vs the federal government in siting regional transmission projects. Some argue the feds should have more control in siting the lines, rather than allow states (and communities) decide the process (which can slow it down).