Xcel, Interior Department add almost 2 gigawatts of wind power

For nine years, Xcel has been the leading utility for wind power and it's about to acquire a lot more.

It's buying 600 megawatts (MW) of wind energy from two planned wind farms in Minnesota and North Dakota and taking ownership of another being built in Minnesota by RES Americas Development. 

The deal increases the utility's wind portfolio in the Upper Midwest by a solid third, its single largest increase there. When they come online by 2015, 180,000 more homes will be powered by wind. 

Xcel gets energy from 50 wind projects in Minnesota, both large and small, adding up to 1,800 MW for the region. Minnesota is spending $1 billion to upgrade its transmission system this year as part of a $2.2 billion overhaul, enabling a lot more wind power to connect to the grid. 

Wind prices are so competitively priced right now that Xcel expects customers to save $180 million compared to conventional power plants.

"Wind power is simply the cheapest resource available right now, and we are taking the opportunity ... to further shape our systems for the future," says Ben Fowke, CEO of Xcel.

Last week, Xcel made a similar announcement for the southwest: It will buy 700 MW of energy from three new wind farms in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, and has plans to significantly expand in Colorado.

Meanwhile, the Department of Interior has greenlighted the 500 MW Mohave County Wind Farm in northwest Arizona, which will supply energy to 175,000 homes.

BP Wind Energy will build the project, deploying 243 turbines across 38,000 acres of public land. If that sounds big, it's actually 20 percent smaller than originally conceived to protect golden eagle habitat and provide a buffer for the Lake Mead National Recreational Area. No turbine will be closer than a quarter-mile to private property.

This is the 46th utility-scale renewable energy project -- solar, wind and geothermal -- approved for public lands since 2009. In all, they will power over 4.4 million homes and support 17,000 construction and operations jobs.

Fourteen more project proposals will be reviewed over the next two years as part of Interior's "Smart from the Start" program, which identifies the most suitable areas in advance. 

Some 192,100 acres of public land in Arizona alone have been approved for large solar and wind projects. Last year, the DOI released its final plan for large scale renewables development on public lands, which covers six states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. 

As of 2012, the DOI surpassed President Obama's goal of 10 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands, and is now focused on approving another 10 GW by 2020 under his new climate action plan.

This article originally appeared at Sustainable Business News.

Wind turbine image CC licensed by lawmurray via Flickr