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Minnkota-Minnesota Power agreement means biggest N. Dakota?wind farm yet

Two power companies' pact this month to sell one existing North Dakota transmission line and build a new one includes a wind farm expansion at Center, N.D., larger than all the currently operating wind generation in the state.

Or computed another way, Minnesota Power's wind farm expansion would be twice as large as any other wind farm either operating or currently planned in North Dakota.

Minnesota Power, based in Duluth, Minn., plans to build dozens more wind turbines near Center, N.D., between 2011 and 2015, and generate 400 megawatts to 600 megawatts of power for its northern Minnesota customers. Spokesman Pat Mullen said the company doesn't know yet exactly how many turbines it will need.

Minnesota Power already buys 97.5 MW of power from 65 wind turbines at Center, a project that went on line late last year and which is owned by FPL-Oliver County Wind LLC.

"Four hundred to 600 megawatts of additional wind power would be a very significant addition to the wind resources in this state," Public Service Commissioner Susan Wefald said Tuesday. "This project alone, at 400 megawatts, would double what we currently have in existence."

According to PSC records, about 385 MW of wind power generation is currently operating in North Dakota.

Seven additional wind farms or wind farm expansions totaling about 1,000 MW are in the process of being approved at the PSC. The biggest are 200 MW each--Ashtabula Wind Project north of Valley City and Crown Butte Wind Power LLC at Gascoyne.

The 400 MW to 600 MW expansion at Center would boost the combined operating-and-planned wind power, about 1,400 MW, by 29 percent to 44 percent.

North Dakota had less than one megawatt of wind farm energy only a few years ago.

A wind farm of 500 to 700 MW would see a North Dakota wind facility finally reach the size of some of North Dakota's typical coal-fired power plants. For instance, the Milton R. Young II station near Center is a 455-MW plant.

Minnesota Power's wind farm expansion at Center is rooted in an agreement announced last week between that company and Minnkota Power Cooperative, based in Grand Forks.

It calls for Minnesota Power to buy a 465-mile direct current transmission line that currently runs from the Milton R. Young II coal-fired plant at Center to Hermantown, Minn., and use it to transmit wind power from Center instead of coal power. Square Butte Electric Cooperative owns the line now. The same 11 rural electric cooperatives that own Minnkota own Square Butte Cooperative.

To move its Milton R. Young II coal-fired electricity east after selling the DC line, Minnkota will build a new 345-MW transmission line to either Grand Forks or Fargo to supply its Red River Valley customers.

Currently, Minnkota and Minnesota Power each buy about half the Milton R. Young II electricity. As Minnesota Power puts its new wind farm expansion on line, it will gradually use less and less of the Young plant's coal-fired power and Minnkota will use more.

According to Minnkota, that will save the cooperative having to build a new power plant to supply an expanding electricity market.