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Wind farm in Vernon County moves closer  

Although in very preliminary stages, Westby City Council members recently jumped on the alternative energy resource bandwagon giving an unofficial nod of approval for representatives of WPPI (Wisconsin Public Power Inc.) to work Westby’s municipal electric utility and local officials at the possibility of installing a wind-powered project in Westby.

WPPI is looking at developing as much as 24 megawatts of community-based wind projects in Wisconsin. WPPI hopes to develop these community-based wind power projects cooperatively with local elected officials, community leaders, site landowners and site neighbors.

The program is designed to place 1.5 megawatt utility scale wind turbine generators in a number of Wisconsin WPPI member communities, thus creating a large distributed renewable energy project, while achieving economies of scale similar to a large, single-site wind farm. This in turn will produce visible community-based renewable energy able to supply more than 64,000 WPPI member homes annually, at a lower cost than pursuing individual wind turbine generation projects. Electric energy produced by the community-based wind turbine installations will be purchased by WPPI and distributed to all WPPI member communities.

Energy for the city of Westby is currently supplied by WPPI, of which the city is part owner. Eric Kostecki, the renewable energy project coordinator for WPPI, provided a packet of information to city representatives and audience members regarding community-based wind power.

If Westby City Council representative Eric Nottestad has his way, a wind farm in Vernon County wouldn’t just be a dream, it’ll be a reality. Nottestad, a member of the SmartGrowth Steering Committee realizes that communities everywhere need to move forward with alternative energy resources plans to protect and secure the environment for future generations.

Nottestad has been researching alternative source of energy for years. He’s hoping that if residents in the county receive the proper information and a chance to educate themselves about wind energy that they too will look toward to the future and support a wind farm in Vernon County.

As the need for alternative sources of energy heightens, communities across the state are looking outside the box and becoming proactive in their efforts to continue providing enough energy for the residents they serve at a reasonable cost, while searching new environmentally safe alternative sources of energy to add to the mix. By placing a few utility-sized wind turbine generators in a number of member communities, WPPI is hoping to find a viable niche in the renewable energy market, thus providing power to its member communities at a reduced rate in the future.

Kostecki hopes the city of Westby approves the installation of a test tower to check for wind velocities, which are used to determine if enough wind currents are accessible in the region to make constructing a wind farm feasible in this region of the state. The wind energy test tower would be a temporary fixture located on the west end of Highland Street.

Westby Public Works Director Gregg Hanson supports the use of wind energy, but realizes there are a lot of unanswered questions out there regarding the concept. According to Hanson everything is in the very early stages and it will take time and further research to see if the wind turbine project would even be compatible with the power transmission system the city currently utlizes. Hanson doesn’t want to put the cart before the horse by jumping into something until he’s sure the pieces all fit together and that the project would benefit everyone involved.

Land owners in the township of Christiana, have also been approached regarding the possible erection of wind towers on their land. The proposed area for the initial wind turbines is on city property and on land owned by Glen and Madeline Stalsberg. The Stalsbergs both attended the city council meeting in February and appeared to be in favor of the potential wind farm site.

David Eggen, board chairman for the township of Christiana, said the township has been contacted by EcoEnergy and John Deere Financial about the possibility of erecting a wind farm, with up to 40 turbines on township properties. Wind farm turbines can be placed economically every 25-35 acres and cost approximately $3 million dollars a piece to construct, depending on the size and megawatts the wind turbine generates. The Wesbty

According to Westby City Council representative Eric Nottestad, John Deere Financial leases land where the wind turbines are constructed for approimately $4,000 annually per tower site and provides 99-percent of the equity in the wind farm, while local investors supply one-percent of the equity. The local investment requires at least 10 individuals. The land where the towers are located is contracted for 20 years and after five years John Deere agrees to sell the wind farm to the local investors for the net present value of the guarenteed cash flow of the contracts before the electical power source is sold to the grid.

Through EcoEnergy, which is part of the Morse Group with offices mainly in Illinois, landowners are paid #3,000 per megawatt, per tower annually to lease the property where the turbines are constructed. EcoEnergy leases the land for 20 years and the equity in the project comes from outside investors. EcoEnergy currently has 15 wind farms being developed or currently operating in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.

According to Neil Palmer, a consultant to WPPI, the city of Westby wind-power project would be developed with EcoEnergy and is not connected with John Deere Financial, who has approached landowners in the township of Christiana.

Eggen said the key for municipalities is to get ordinances on the books regarding wind towers before landowners sign contracts to erect towers. He said some landowners have been contacted and may have already signed contracts, although no public information is available on that as of yet. Christiana has held two public hearings regarding the issue, and although Eggen supports the future of alternative energy he is skeptical about the underlying expenses which landowners might be blind to now, but be faced to deal with down the line, as well as all the legal ordinance requirements which must be adhered to.

“With the federal government requiring electric providers to get 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010, there’s a big push on to find these sources and get a move on,” Eggen said. “What I want to stress is the fact that townships are struggling to stay abreast of this issue and get ordinances in place.

“As an official you’re not necessarily “˜for or against’ these things,” Eggen continued. “You do understand that the people who would be getting a windmill would be in favor of it and maybe those not getting one would be against it. It also has an impact on how the landscape of an area looks.”

Christiana township has been working with the Wisconsin Township Association to check into an ordinance governing the towers, Eggen said. He said a draft ordinance could be presented to the town board when it discusses the wind farm issue again on March 20.

“What people need to know about these things is that typically from the start of talks it takes another three-to-five years before the first tower goes up,” Eggen said.

According to the Public Service Commission, Wisconsin residential energy use increases two percent a year. The continued strong demand for energy is stripping power plants of more energy then they can produce annually forcing them to import nearly 15-percent of the energy they provide in the state from outside resources, as well as all the fuel needed to operate the state’s power plants on a daily basis.

At the current energy usage rate Wisconsin is expected to grow its demand for energy by 300 megawatts a year, which is equivalent to the need to construct one new power plant annually. WPPI believes the cost of producing the new energy can be lowered substantially through the use of alternative energy resources, like wind power.

The concept of wind farms in Western Wisconsin is not new. A wind farm with about 20 turbines is located on Hwy. 18 between Montfort and Dodgeville. Because WPPI was only listed on the city of Westby agenda as a discussion item, the council could not pass an official motion allowing WPPI to erect a test tower. They did however request more in-depth information from WPPI about the wind power project.

To further educate everyone regarding the wind power concept WPPI is offering residents in the city of Westby and township of Christiana an opportunity to visit the wind farm in Monfort, Wisconsin, on Saturday, March 10.

The wind farm schedule is listed below:

8:30 a.m. Load bus in city lot on Milwaukee Street

9:00 – 9:15 a.m. Depart Westby

10:30-10:45 a.m. Arrive Montfort

11:00 a.m.-Noon Tour of turbines with Carol Anderson (for FPL)

12:00-1:30 p.m. Lunch at Chief’s Firehouse in Cobb (tour guests pay their own)

1:30 – 3:00 p.m. Return to Westby

3:00 – 4:30 p.m. Open house at Westby City Hall

The bus tour is free and the meeting following the tour is open to the public. Guests are responsible for the cost of their meals. Anyone wishing to attend the wind farm tour should contact Westby City Hall at 608-634-3214 or Eric Nottestad at 608-634-2447. Nottestad can also be contacted online at ernot@hotmail.com

by Dorothy Jasperson


28 February 2007

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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