The winds of change are blowing steadily on Friesland Road in northeast Columbia County as two major players in energy – Midwest Renewable Energy Corp. and FPL Energy, an affiliate of Florida Power and Light – each plan to construct wind farms in 2008.
For the past three years, both renewable energy companies have been courting farmers in that area to lease land for the construction of wind turbines. The leases under option agreements run between 20 and 25 years long for farmers who decide to sign with either company.
The proposed Columbia Community Wind Power LLC wind farm would have 40 wind turbines, while the FPL Energy proposes 53. Each company would need 5,000 to 6,000 acres to accommodate the turbines, and both companies would like to run at 80 megawatts at full capacity. The large proposed acreage could effect residents and farmers across the town of Randolph, the town of Scott, the village of Cambria and the village of Friesland.
Friesland Road runs parallel to the north of state Highway 33 in the town of Randolph and the village of Friesland. Neither company would comment on where specifically the wind farms would be located.
Each turbine would be 400 feet from base to the tip of the propeller. The structures are steel and the propellers are fiberglass, built to withstand extreme cold and heavy weather patterns.
Attributes of the area that drew both companies include the high elevation, open fields, the ability to connect with a power grid and unzoned land, officials for both companies said.
Dealing with landowners
Felix Friedman, project manager for Columbia County Wind Power LLC and a representative for Midwest Renewable Energy, said that the most important attribute about the site location is the community.
“We met with landowners and the neighbors before we moved forward. Landowners are great people out there,” Friedman said, declining to cite a specific number of landowners involved. “We held a number of landowner meetings and pretty much presented our plan and had a Q-and-A. They said they would like it and they all will receive revenue.”
The latest meeting with a representative from Columbia County Wind Power LLC took place Dec. 14, according to Friedman, and he has tentative plans for face-to-face meetings next week in the area.
John Didonato, executive director of wind development in the Midwest region for FPL Energy, said they are informing landowners that their company has entered into an agreement with WE Energies. According to Didonato, WE Energies has an option to purchase either the proposed wind farm or energy from it, with options running through “at least 2009.”
“I would say that they (WE Energies) are very happy to have the option and there’s a high likelihood that a wind farm will get built there and FPL will be involved,” Didonato said.
FPL Energy is buying Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant in Manitowoc County from WE Energies for more than $1 billion dollars, according to Didonato, and one of the options in the contract dealt with wind farms. He said his company is in contact with 25 to 40 landowners.
“This launches that development way forward and makes it a high probability that the wind farm will get built on that land … a tremendous leg up on any competition,” Didonato said.
Because the area of proposed land is not zoned, neither company would need a zoning permit. However, they both need construction permits, must meet Federal Aviation Administration guidelines and meet Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources standards to ensure that endangered species are not disrupted. Friedman said they have met all the requirements, while Didonato said they are in the process of doing so.
Residents have questions
Although both companies are optimistic about their chances of a successful wind farm, some residents feel left in the dark.
Bob Sanderson, of Pardeeville, said that he feels both companies may be struggling to confirm plans.
“It’s kind of like jello right now. Who knows where it will end up?” Sanderson said. “Whether it will end up going ahead or not work out. They have to clear up some questions farmers have. They come in and stir up a fair amount of interest among farmers, but we’ll have to see if they can really come forth with something solid.”
Sanderson signed a lease with Midwest Renewable Energy and knows farmers who have chosen FPL Energy, but he does not want the company competition to hurt neighbors.
“We have a great community of farmers over there and I said at the beginning that I want to be able to wave at everybody and have everybody wave back. We’re going really gentle with it,” Sanderson said.
Gary Nehring, Cambria village president, said that he assumes residents feel positively about the proposed projects, but that sentiment could change as it progresses.
“It was on the front burner three years ago and nothing since. This is the first I’ve heard anything about it, but I know they had towers up checking the wind,” Nehring said.
David Hughes, board chairman in the town of Randolph, said that the projects have garnered a lot of interest, but there are still unanswered questions.
“There are not a lot of clear-cut answers and I would like to know how it will affect our taxes,” Hughes said. “Midwest came back this fall and Florida came right back with them.” He said that the town may hold public informational meetings about the proposed wind farms.
William Berger, chairman in the town of Scott, said that the whole concept of the two proposed projects is a “murky affair right now.”
“I think people have a wait-and-see attitude. They’ve (the two energy companies) have been around before and they talk quite a bit, but I don’t know if anything is going to come of it or not,” Berger said. “It seems like they’re trying to get people lined up and then sell the property to a utility that would hopefully pick it up, or then, ‘sorry’ and they’ll be back in a couple more years.”
Berger said that Friesland Road runs parallel to state Highway 33, not far from the Didion Ethanol Plant.
Companies welcome competition
Both companies said that a handful of full-time jobs –between three and six – would be available to local residents when the wind farms are complete. But temporary jobs during construction would be up to the construction companies.
The close quarters of the two companies, and heavy competition for the top spot in Columbia County, does not rattle Friedman or Didonato. Both said that they are confident in their respective proposals.
“I know they’re (FPL Energy) there, but the facts are that you have to get connected to the grid and there’s a queue,” Friedman said. “We’re first in the queue and they’re last in the queue. We do what we say and we do what we say. When Wisconsin utilities are looking to buy they will look at the ones most ready to go, the most developed.”
Didonato said he is aware of MREP and their plans for a wind farm, but he is not fazed.
“I think that this is a very competitive business and they are not the only competition out there. I can only focus on what I am asked to do,” Didonato said. “We are the largest developer and operator of wind energy in the nation.”
FPL Energy already has a functioning wind farm in Montfort. Midwest Renewable Energies does not have any in the state but has multiple wind farms and project phases already set up in Iowa. It is based in Joice, Iowa.
The appeal of wind energy has caught on as a renewable source that does not produce excess pollution or use fossil fuels that contribute to global warming. With most utility providers, such as Madison Gas and Electric, customers have an option to purchase their power from alternative sources, such as wind. Although some utility providers charge slightly extra for the change. However, as the demand of alternative energy goes up, so will the price.
By Jen McCoy, Daily Register
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