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Does wind power have a future in Sauk County?  

A local group wants to explore using wind turbines to generate power in Sauk County and will hear from wind power advocates during a Jan. 12 public meeting.

Sustain Sauk County, a recently formed group dedicated to reducing local dependence on fossil fuels, wants to find out if something similar to a $20 million Dane County wind farm project in the town of Springfield west of Highway 12 could be done in Sauk County.

Sauk County is not in the same league – in terms of wind power potential – as Buffalo Ridge, a stretch of earth from South Dakota to southwestern Minnesota that has clusters of wind farms, said Joan Wheeler, a Sustain Sauk County member who will convene the meeting. “However, there are pockets of land in Sauk County that have decent prevailing wind speeds,” she said.

Wheeler was inspired by a program about renewable energy on the Public Broadcasting Service and an article she read in the Wisconsin State Journal about the Dane County project.

The six turbines slated to be up and running in the town of Springfield late this year are expected to generate enough energy to power about 2,500 homes, according to Sustain Sauk County.

That project allows property owners to invest in and earn returns on the wind farm, rather than just leasing their space to a contractor. One of the landowners involved in the Springfield wind farm will speak at the meeting.

Wheeler said she’s not sure which areas might be best for a similar project in Sauk County, but she hopes the meeting will help local landowners make connections and get information.

“If we had landowners whose land happened to be in a fairly high wind area, who wanted to make a deal with a wind developing company, what could be bad about that?” Wheeler said.

But wind power isn’t immune to criticism. A 133-turbine project near the Horicon Marsh drew opposition from some Dodge and Fond du Lac county citizens in 2005 and is still controversial.

Thirty of the 400-foot turbines already have been built, and some will be two miles from the eastern edge of the marsh.

Those turbines could kill some of the hundreds of thousands of birds that fly in and out of the marsh every spring and fall, said Curt Kindschuh, public relations officer for Horicon Marsh Systems Advocates, an environmental group opposed to the project.

“The greater question is, ‘How will this affect their migratory patterns?'” Kindschuh said.

But wind turbines don’t pose a significant risk to bird populations, according to Wisconsin Focus on Energy, an organization overseen by the Public Service Commission. The biggest cause of bird deaths are the loss of habitat because of human infringement, environmental plundering and collisions with other man-made objects, like communication towers and power lines, according to the organization.

Kindschuh said extra energy on the grid from wind turbines might allow power plants that emit pollutants to shut down for periods of time. But when the wind dies down, additional power is needed to restart the power plants, canceling out the gain from wind turbines, he said.

He also said residents near the wind farm are concerned about property values decreasing. The debate has torn up the community, he said.

“Longtime neighbors won’t speak to each other, and family members won’t speak to other family members,” he said. “People have quit churches and we’ve had verbal arguments at public gas stations.”

Wheeler said concerns about bird deaths and noise from wind turbines “have been shown to be without basis.”

The trick is finding a spot that’s not controversial, said Judy Spring, volunteer coordinator for Sustain Sauk County.

She said the location of the Horicon Marsh wind farm doesn’t make sense.

“It would be like saying, ‘Let’s put (a wind farm) in the Baraboo hills,'” she said. “That would just be dumb.”

If wind turbines were to come to Sauk County, new zoning rules would have to be drawn up, said Sauk County Planning and Zoning Director Mark Steward.

He said installing wind turbines in some areas – such as the town of Washington, which has no zoning rules – would be easier to work with than others.

But in most areas, land owners would have to get approval from the county.

If you go

What: Sustain Sauk County meeting about bringing wind power to Sauk County

When: Saturday, Jan. 12 from 9 a.m. to noon

Where: Room B30, West Square Building, 505 Broadway, Baraboo

By Tim Damos

Baraboo News Republic

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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