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Minnesota's high winds this spring spark a jump in green energy production

Climatologist Mark Seeley said at many Minnesota climate stations, the first four months of the year had daily wind gusts of 30 miles per hour or more on 60% of days.

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Wind turbines near Blue Earth, Minnesota. More windy days in the state this year has increased more power for utility companies.
MPR News file photo
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ST. PAUL -- In one measure of how windy it was in Minnesota, utilities reported generating much more wind power this year.

In Willmar, the gusty spring months have translated into record breaking power production for the city power utility's two wind turbines.

“We knew it was windy out. I guess I didn't realize it was this windy,” said Kevin Marti, the supervisor of facilities and maintenance at Willmar Municipal Utilities.

April was the most wind power production — 1,416,112 kilowatt hours — the utility has seen since it installed wind energy in 2009.

"It was definitely a good month for us. Our previous record was around 1.1 million kilowatt hours. So we beat that by 300,000 roughly,” Marti said.

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The central Minnesota utility produced about half of the power during April than they would have with the wind blowing constantly for 30 days straight.

Climatologist Mark Seeley said at many Minnesota climate stations, the first four months of the year had daily wind gusts of 30 miles per hour or more on 60% of days.

That's a huge jump from the average, when about 25% of days see wind gusts of more than 30 miles per hour.

At the 18-member Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, wind production was up 23% in the first four months of the year over the same period last year.

High winds are a good thing, but they don't necessarily translate into a one-for-one ratio for energy production. There are two major reasons for that. For one, there's only so much energy that can move through a transmission line, said the agency’s spokesperson Joe Hoffman.

"When people aren't using energy for heat or air conditioning, there can be times where those wind turbines need to be curtailed, because they're actually producing more energy than the energy grid can successfully move to customers," Hoffman said.

That balance of generation, transmission and consumption can sometimes lead to wind turbines being shut off on windy days, since long-term storage capacity for wind energy isn't cost efficient yet.

Xcel Energy has increased its capacity for wind energy by about 25% over the last year, but even with that addition factored in, the company has seen a noticeable rise in renewable energy production.

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Drake Bartlett, Xcel Energy’s senior market operations analyst, said wind and solar provided about a third of electric load in the first four months of 2021. The utility saw that amount jump to nearly 46% this year.

Xcel has built more wind power generation than solar generation. But Bartlett says going forward Xcel is investing more in solar, which has gotten less expensive. He says solar can also complement wind energy during sunny, not so windy days, using the same transmission lines.

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