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Wind-to-battery project is considered a success

Submitted Photo Xcel Energy workers check on the wind-to-battery storage system near Beaver Creek. New research data released this week shows the testing facility is a success.

BEAVER CREEK -- After nearly two years in operation, the wind-to-battery storage project near Beaver Creek is being deemed a success.

The project -- unveiled in March 2008 as a partnership between Xcel Energy and Luverne-based Minwind Energy LLC -- has been testing the capability to store wind power produced by Minwind's 11-megawatt wind farm in a nearly 80-ton battery north of Beaver Creek. The wind-to-battery research is the first of its kind in the United States, and is being led by Xcel, which is the nation's leading wind energy provider in the country.

So far, research has revealed the battery can effectively shift wind energy from off-peak to on-peak availability and can compensate for periods when there is a lack of wind. It also can provide voltage support for the transmission grid system and has proven successful in supporting the regional electricity market, according to Xcel.

The second phase of the research project, which continues through next summer, will test the battery's ability to take higher quantities of wind energy and put them on the grid. It will also examine the cost-effectiveness of the wind-to-battery technology.

Frank Novachek, Xcel Energy's director of corporate planning in Denver, Colo., said via telephone Thursday afternoon the battery installed near Beaver Creek is too expensive for commercial use -- it was the only large-scale battery with a commercial track record at the time Xcel's research project began -- but advancements in battery technology will eventually make energy storage less expensive.

Those new technologies will provide additional opportunities for Xcel to delve further into battery use for wind power storage, but Novachek said the company remains in research mode.

"We believe that energy storage could be cost-effective in the future," he said. "We still haven't narrowed down what the price needs to be for it to work."

Novachek said there are many variables in pricing out the cost of wind-to-battery storage, depending on the storage capacity and the length of time the power can be stored. The battery at Beaver Creek is capable of storing up to one megawatt of power for up to seven hours. Some batteries available at this time can store up to 2 megawatts of power, but it can only be stored for 15 minutes.

"The longer storage times are good if you are trying to shift nighttime energy to the daytime," Novachek said. That was the reason they began testing the battery at Beaver Creek -- collecting wind energy overnight and storing it in the battery so it could be put on the grid during peak daytime hours when power rates increase.

"We are trying to determine what price we would be willing to pay for storage for our customers," he added.

Mark Willers, CEO of Minwind Energy, is pleased with the information collected from the research.

"It's been working very good," said Willers, adding that collaborating with Xcel has gone "extremely well." He said he was also impressed with how well the equipment functioned.

"From a wind power ownership (perspective), I hope we can expand the research," Willers said. "It's very interesting, some of the possibilities relating to how we can have clean energy here for America.

"I think as people look at long-term energy policy, it's important that we not just look at old technology, but having actual data from new technology will assist us in making long-term decisions. That's what's important in all the research," he added.

Testing at the Beaver Creek wind-to-battery project will continue until about this time next summer, said Novachek. During the next year, much of the research will be done by the University of Minnesota, with Xcel Energy planning to run a few trials as needed.

Once the testing is complete, plans are to keep the battery where it is and operate it through the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator as a frequency regulation device, Novachek said. An Xcel Energy-owned power plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., will take over maintenance of the battery at that time.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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