Enbridge eyes US wind plays

Canadian energy transportation and distribution giant Enbridge is actively looking to grow its wind “footprint” in the US through acquisition and development of projects 100MW and greater in nameplate capacity, Recharge learns.

“We transport energy via pipeline, trucks and rail. We want to invest in renewable and alternative energy technologies to complement our core operations and provide environmental benefits,” says Debbi Cano, spokesperson for the company’s US operation based in Houston.

While Enbridge is not ready to announce new projects, she says the Calgary-based company is focusing on Colorado, where it owns the 250MW Cedar Point project; US Midwest; Texas, where the 110MW Keechi project is due online in first quarter 2015, and possibly neighboring Oklahoma.

Those locations have what Enbridge is seeking: strong wind resource, good transmission access, local utilities that buy large amounts of renewable power over the long-term, and the potential to expand projects with subsequent build-out phases.

“These are strong commercial underpinnings. Even though it might be a smaller project, to hopefully have the ability to grow it,” Cano says, noting the company’s wind projects are usually between 100MW and 300MW.

Should it choose to do so, Enbridge’s deep pockets would enable it to build a large portfolio of wind assets in the US. Enbridge’s decision to become more involved with US wind runs counter to a trend in the North American oil industry to divest wind assets, retain a modest portfolio or to avoid the sector altogether.

Enbridge is the second largest wind power producer in Canada where it is also looking for additional wind capacity in Alberta and Quebec. It has full or partial ownership in about 1.66GW of wind projects.

To expand its US wind business, Enbridge has teamed with Renewable Energy Systems Americas to develop projects and Vestas to power them. That formula worked well with both Cedar Point and Keechi (pronounced key-chai), located about 90km northwest of Fort Worth.

Cedar Point, the second largest wind farm in Colorado, marked Enbridge’s US entry – a $500m investment.  It came online in 2011.  

Enbridge is investing $200m in Keechi, its second US project, scheduled to enter full commercial operation in first quarter 2015. At that point, MetLife will provide tax equity financing for the project.

The software colossus will buy the wind farm’s entire output under a 20-year agreement using funds generated from so-called carbon fees that it assesses on each department for the carbon they produce.

Microsoft views the Keechi deal as a wholesale transaction – sending clean electricity into the grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. It will not power Microsoft’s large data center in San Antonio, which buys retail power from city-owned CPS Energy.

The Microsoft deal last November raised Enbridge’s public profile in the US after years quietly supplying it with Canadian crude and liquids through an extensive pipeline network.