MINNEAPOLIS — Xcel Energy issued a press release Wednesday declaring that it had achieved a milestone when 46 percent of customers' electricity needs in the Upper Midwest were met by wind energy at 3 a.m. Sunday.
That's an all-time high for Xcel, which recently was named the nation's top wind power provider for the 10th straight year. At the time of the record, 1,622 of 3,512 megawatts were being produced by wind turbines.
The previous record was set in April 2013 when wind generation met 42 percent of customer demand.
"Wind energy brings great value to our customers as a cost-effective and clean resource," said Dave Sparby, president and CEO of Northern States Power. "As we've added more wind power, we've learned a lot about how to reliably and safely integrate wind energy onto our system. And, by using state-of-the-art wind forecasting tools, we have saved Upper Midwest customers more than $15 million in fuel costs since 2009."
Wind generation currently accounts for 12 percent of energy used by Xcel customers. Four new projects will add 750 megawatts by 2015 to bring it closer to 25 percent by 2020, as required by Minnesota law.
"These cost-competitive projects will save customers more than $225 million and provide valuable hedge to volatile fuel prices," Sparby said. "Our diverse mix of cleaner technologies helps us keep costs lower over time, improve our environmental performance and provide safe, reliable service for customers."
Minnesota is seventh in the country in total megawatts of installed wind power, according to data released earlier this month by the American Wind Energy Association. Nearly 16 percent of Minnesota's electricity now comes from wind power, which is fifth in the United States.
However, critics of such proliferation abound — particularly in Goodhue County.
The controversial New Era wind project sited near Zumbrota received national attention during its five-plus year permitting battle that eventually was won by local opposition. Complaints about shadow flicker, transfer of ownership, impacts of protected birds and bats — among other things — proved too much to overcome for project developers, which once included Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens.