Wind power

Wind turbinesWind turbines at Buffalo Ridge, near Lake Benton, Minnesota—one of the region’s highest and windiest locations. The area features 450 wind turbines and produces up to 300 megawatts of energy, making it one of the nation’s leading producers of wind energy.

Image courtesy Xcel Energy

Minnesota poised to increase energy harvested from wind

Minnesota is one of the top five states when it comes to producing energy from wind.

At the end of January, Xcel Energy—Minnesota’s largest energy utility—announced a plan to build a $210 million, 100-megawatt wind farm in Minnesota. It’s a significant investment and will produce a lot of energy, but it’s only a fraction of what Governor Pawlenty calls for in his Next Generation Energy Plan.

Pawlenty’s proposal calls for 4,000 to 5,000 megawatts of electricity generated by wind by 2025. Since the average large wind turbine generates around two megawatts of electricity, the Governor’s proposal would result in the construction of an additional 2,500 wind turbines in Minnesota. It’s an attainable goal, but it will require at least $6 billion in new equipment and infrastructure costs.

Wind farm from the skyMinnesota and Iowa lead the Midwest in wind energy installations.

Image courtesy paytonc

Not a silver bullet

While wind energy seems like a great solution to the economic, environmental, and national security issues created by our dependence on fossil fuels, it’s not a silver bullet.

Wind energy farms are expensive to build and maintain. While the long term economics may be favorable, the start-up costs of getting a wind farm operational are significant. Potential sites for wind farms are often in rural areas, far from urban areas where the demand is highest. So utilities have to build new transmission lines and substations to get the energy from where it’s produced to where it’s used.

Another drawback to wind power is its variability. The wind doesn’t always blow, and in some areas it blows more heavily during some seasons than others. But energy supply and demand must remain in balance to maintain energy grid stability, so it can be tricky to add wind farms to the system. Scientists are developing more efficient storage systems for the energy the turbines produce, which may help offset this variability.
So while wind energy is a tremendous renewable resource we’re only just beginning to use, it’s not a single solution. Instead, it’s a piece of a larger renewable energy puzzle.