A conference in Ypsilanti, Michigan this week is devoted to finding ways to expand wind power in the Great Lakes states. And one of the biggest barriers is transmission.

The problem is twofold. First, areas with the strongest wind potential don’t necessarily overlap with existing transmission infrastructure (i.e., existing power plants or major cities). You can get a rough sense of this from the maps below. On the left is wind power potential, on the right are existing coal plants:

The second has to do with reliability. As critics of wind power frequently point out, a single wind farm can’t duplicate the power output of a coal, gas or nuclear power plant because of the variability of the wind. However, you can achieve reliability by connecting multiple wind farms across the grid. From the news release:

Noting the environmental advantages of wind compared to other forms of energy production, GLWC Co-chair Terry Yonker challenged the meeting participants to “redefine wind power as a baseload capacity when it is integrated into a geographically diverse smartgrid.”

That is, of course, easier said than done. But in a post in May, Grist’s David Roberts explains how Germany is moving toward a renewable-based baseload system, with natural gas “peaker” plants (that can start up and shut down quickly and inexpensively) as backup.

The conference, sponsored by the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative, wraps up today.

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.