The Rise Of Wind Energy Raises Questions About Its Reliability

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The Rise Of Wind Energy Raises Questions About Its Reliability

June 22, 2017

Steven Somsen's farm got a new addition last year, breaking up fields of wheat and soybeans that span as far as the eye can see from his rural North Dakota home.

"We ended up with some towers on our property," he says, nodding toward the giant, spinning, white wind turbines dotting the farmland around his house.

Xcel Energy, a Midwest-based utility, installed three on his land, among the 100 turbines placed near his remote community of Courtenay.

"It's something different to look at," he says. "Some of [my neighbors] say they don't like them. The other ones say it's fine. Don't bother me none."

In the windy Great Plains, it's not just the placement of these large towers, which have been welcomed by some, yet cause for concern for others.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry earlier this year ordered a study of the nation's electric grid to see if renewable energy is threatening the grid's reliability. It's slated to wrap up in July.

North Dakota's coal industry is also growing uneasy. A decade ago, coal produced 90 percent of the state's power, according to the Energy Information Administration. Today, it's down to 71 percent as wind fills in the gap. Nationally, cheap natural gas is proving a major competitor as well.

This spring, state Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, proposed halting the development of new wind farms for two years, though his legislation ultimately failed.

"Clean is great, but we've still got to have reliability," he says. "We can't let go of that because without reliable electricity, we're in the dark."

Federal tax credits have provided incentives for wind production, and many states have adopted mandates for renewables. Plus, more and more cities say they plan to move to 100 percent renewable power.

On a breezy day in Courtenay, enormous blades rotate above Jayme Orrack. He oversees this new wind farm for Xcel Energy, which provides more electricity via wind than any other utility in the country, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

"It takes about a minute and a half for it to come online," he says of the turbine next to him. "It has to stay at a sustained 1,000 RPM in the generator before it'll actually kick on and start generating power."

SOURCE:  NPR

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