Xcel Energy plans to build three new wind farms in Minnesota and one in North Dakota, part of a larger program to increase its wind generation capacity by 60 percent in the Upper Midwest.

Together, the four projects total 750 megawatts and will provide enough energy to power nearly 400,000 homes. In September, Xcel announced it would add 1,500 megawatts of new wind generation — or eight to 10 wind farms — by 2020, a $2 billion investment. The projects announced Tuesday are included in that goal; they still require regulatory approval.

The four new wind farms are: Freeborn Wind Energy, at 200 megawatts in Freeborn County in southern Minnesota; Blazing Star 1 and 2, each at 200 megawatts in Lincoln County in southwestern Minnesota; and Foxtail Wind, at 150 megawatts in Dickey County in southeastern North Dakota.

To put the wind farms' size in perspective, one of Xcel's largest coal plants can kick out 682 megawatts and run continuously. (Wind power by nature is intermittent).

Xcel expects that by 2030, one-third of its power generation in the Upper Midwest will come from renewable sources — primarily wind. That's up from 24 percent now.

The Freeborn project will be developed by Chicago-based Invenergy; Blazing Star 1 and 2 by Edina-based Geronimo Energy; and Juno Beach, Fla.-based NextEra Energy will handle the North Dakota wind farm. Xcel will own all four wind farms.

Historically, Xcel has primarily bought wind power through long-term contracts, though the utility has said it intends to own more wind farms directly. Through ownership, Xcel can roll its investments into its rate base, and thus get a return for its investors through the regulatory process.

Minneapolis-based Xcel is the nation's leading utility for wind generation. The company's plan to add 1,500 megawatts — a megawatt is 1 million watts — in the Upper Midwest over the next four years will take full advantage of a federal wind power tax credit set to phase out by 2020. The 30 percent credit lowers costs significantly for new wind farms.

"We believe near-term wind additions present a great opportunity to achieve lower carbon emissions at an affordable price," Xcel said in a filing this week with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

There are already 110 wind farms in Minnesota, with 2,400 turbines with a capacity for 3,424 megawatts of power, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Minnesota is the nation's seventh largest producer of wind power as ranked by the American Wind Energy Association.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003