Little Rock-based Southwest Power Pool is the first regional transmission organization in North America to serve more than 50% of its load at a given time with wind energy, according to a company news release. At 4:30 a.m. Feb. 12, the organization “set a wind-penetration record of 52.1%.” SPP set the previous record of 49.2% on April 24, 2016. “Wind penetration is a measure of the amount of total load served by wind at a given time.”
Wind is the third most prevalent fuel source in the SPP region, accounting for about 15% of the organization’s generating capacity in 2016, behind natural gas and coal. Installed wind-generation capacity rose more than 30% to 16 gigawatts, from 12 gigawatts. SPP’s generation capacity increased to 12,336 megawatts, from 9,948 megawatts in 2015.
“Ten years ago, we thought hitting even a 25% wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability,” Bruce Rew, SPP vice president of operations, said in the release. The level reached Feb. 12 is “not even our ceiling. We continue to study even higher levels of renewable, variable generation as part of our plans to maintain a reliable and economic grid of the future.”
SPP’s footprint covers almost 550,000 square miles from the Canadian border in Montana and North Dakota to New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana. Because of the size of the organization’s footprint, “if the wind stops blowing in the upper Great Plains, we can deploy resources waiting in the Midwest and Southwest to make up any sudden deficits,” Rew said.
The company has approved more than $10 billion in transmission infrastructure over the past decade, “much of it being built in the Midwest to connect rural, isolated wind farms to population centers hundreds of miles away,” the release shows. The organization and its member companies “coordinate the flow of electricity across 60,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines spanning 14 states.”