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We Energies gets OK for 88-turbine project  

We Energies may proceed with construction of what could be the state’s largest wind power project, state regulators decided Thursday.

The Milwaukee utility won unanimous approval from the Public Service Commission to build the Blue Sky Green Field project in Fond du Lac County, near Lake Winnebago.

The project would consist of 88 turbines. How much power the project will generate is still unclear because the utility is in negotiations with a variety of vendors selling turbines of four sizes, said Andy Hesselbach, We Energies wind farm project manager.

“We’re very encouraged by the vote,” he said. “I won’t say that it was a complete surprise, because we had a lot of support from the towns and the landowners.”

Building the wind farm will cost up to $394 million, according to the utility. The company is expected to ask state regulators in May to include costs of the projects in customers’ 2008 electricity rates.

Construction of the project could begin this summer or early next year, depending on negotiations with vendors, Hesselbach said.
Political momentum

A Minnesota developer first proposed the project nearly five years ago. That developer, Navitas, had hoped to complete the work in 2004 but ran into financial and other difficulties. We Energies bought the rights to develop the project from Navitas in 2005.

The last wind farm built in the state was a 20-turbine project near Dodgeville, which opened in 2001. That project, the Montfort Wind Energy Center, sells power to customers of We Energies and Wisconsin Power & Light Co. of Madison.

The approval Thursday comes as politicians place more and more attention on advancing renewable energy.

President Bush highlighted alternative energy in the State of the Union address Tuesday night, and Gov. Jim Doyle has announced plans to help make Wisconsin more reliant on energy generated in the state than on burning fossil fuels imported from other states.

A law passed last year requires that by 2015, 10% of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources, including wind turbines, solar panels and even systems that convert manure to electricity. We Energies estimated that it generated 2.5% of its electricity from renewable sources last year.

Commission Chairman Dan Ebert said the We Energies project “represents a significant step” for the utility to meet the requirements of the law.

Michael Vickerman, executive director of the advocacy group Renew Wisconsin, said the project represented about 10% of the additional renewable power the state will need within nine years.

“Even if it costs a little more than the wholesale price of electricity, this is what I could call insured energy,” he said.

“Uninsured energy” is from natural gas and other fossil fuels. “If something goes wrong – a hurricane or a war in the Middle East – that would send the price (of fossil fuels) higher,” Vickerman said.

The We Energies project is in the towns of Calumet and Marshfield, just east of Lake Winnebago.
Power for 45,000 homes?

If the largest turbines are used, the project will be capable of generating up to 203 megawatts of electricity, or enough to supply electricity to 45,000 homes. That would be four times as much wind power as all the state’s utilities generate today.

Other projects are planned in Wisconsin, including one involving as many as 133 turbines near the Horicon Marsh in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties.

A lawsuit challenging the permit for that plant is pending before the state Court of Appeals. A spokesman for the developer, Invenergy, was unavailable for comment.

Wisconsin Power & Light is proposing to build 40 turbines in the towns of Eden and Empire in Fond du Lac County. Regulators might make a decision on that project in April, utility spokeswoman Erin Dammen said.

By Thomas Content
tcontent@journalsentinel.com

jsonline.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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