By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney
6 August 2012
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- During the early morning hours of April 15, with a steady breeze blowing down Colorado's Front Range, the state's biggest utility set a U.S. record -- nearly 57% of the electricity being generated was coming from wind power.
As dawn came and the 1.4 million customers in Xcel Energy's service district began turning on the lights, toasters and other appliances, the utility's coal and natural gas-fired power plants ramped up production and brought wind's contribution back closer to its 2012 average of 17%.
Utilities have long been wary of placing too much finicky renewable power on the grid.
"A lot of utilities don't want to contract large amounts of wind because it's volatile," said Amy Grace, a wind analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. "Anything over 25%, and utilities get nervous."
Colorado's overnight high-water mark demonstrated that utilities can indeed incorporate cleaner power sources into the mix.
It also provides hope that, under the right conditions and policies, wind will be able to provide a significantly larger share of the nation's power than its current 3% rate.
"It certainly can be replicated, as long as you have a robust, diverse grid," said Elizabeth Salerno, head of data and analysis at the American Wind Energy Association. "Other folks have some catching up to do."
According to a wind resources map published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas all have stronger winds.
Xcel credited its record wind rate with advances in technology.
The company recently updated its weather forecasting ability with tools that allow it to more accurately predict the strength and duration of the wind. […]