Use of wind energy is increasing in the state, though some environmental groups say it causes unnecessary ecological damage.
In the wake of the governor pledging to decrease Midwest carbon emissions and the UW-Madison Charter Street coal plant being told to update its facilities, Wisconsin’s wind power capabilities are frequently being examined to meet the state’s energy needs.
There has been very few wind projects built in the state since 2000, though more are planned in the next 12 to 24 months, said Ed Blume, spokesperson for the nonprofit environmental group RENEW Wisconsin.
Market shifts toward investing in renewable energy, as well as government action have prompted the recent interest in wind energy, according to Blume.
Blume said one example of the state advocating for a shift toward wind power was in March 2006 when Gov. Jim Doyle signed Act 141, which mandated that 10 percent of all the energy in the state be from renewable sources by 2015.
Wind energy in the state is less abundant than in other Midwestern states, with Iowa and Minnesota the leaders in the region, according to Blume.
According to Milwaukee-based utility company We Energies, 1.7 percent of the energy they produced in 2007 was from renewable sources. Over 53 percent was produced from coal and 24 percent produced by nuclear energy.
Future wind farms are emerging around the state. Madison Gas and Electric is planning one site in Brownsville and We Energies recently announced a 50 to 60 turbine project for central Wisconsin.
We Energies spokesperson Brian Manthey said We Energies’ Blue Sky Green Field wind project near Fond du Lac would be producing power by next summer and power 36,000 homes.
Only 20 minutes outside of Madison is the site of the proposed EcoDane wind project in the town of Springfield. Curt Bjurlin, spokesperson for EcoEnergy, the company that is developing the site, said the six planned turbines should be operational by early 2009.
According to Blume, the biggest challenges to increasing wind power in the state are more at the local level. The largest complaints in regard to wind turbines are noise level, moving shadows created by the blades and harm to birds.
The state typically requires turbines to be 1,000 feet from homes, with noise levels varying on the speed of the wind and how close a home is to the turbine. Bjurlin said the turbines at the Springfield site are loudest in 18 mile per hour winds, with winds over that amount being louder than the sound of the blades.
Turbines can be positioned to reduce shadows on homes, according to Bjurlin. He said the effect, called shadow flicker, only occurs if the sun is visible and at a certain angle in the sky.
Bjulin said some homes near the Springfield site would experience no shadow flicker, while others may receive 1 to 10 hours per year.
Mary Hellenbrand, who has some of the Springfield turbines planned for her property, said she had been assured shadow flicker would be minimal due to the future positioning of the turbines. Hellenbrand also said landowners would be paid a yearly fee for having the turbines on their property.
Some environmental groups concerned about wildlife have publicly spoken out against increased use of wind power in the state.
The group Horicon Marsh Systems Advocates is opposed to a wind farm currently being built by Forward Energy in southeast Wisconsin. HMSA President Joe Breaden said he is opposed due to the deaths of Sandhill Cranes and other birds.
Breaden said wind energy would be more useful in states where bird deaths would not be an issue, like North Dakota or Texas.
According to Breaden, solar energy would be more useful in the state as Wisconsin receives sunlight 265 days a year and wind turbines operate at their peak level only 69 days a year.
“Wind energy in this state, as far as I am concerned, is garbage,” Breaden said. Bjurlin said biologists from the DNR had inspected the Springfield site and the Audubon Society was not opposed to it.
By Charles Brace
20 November 2007
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