BROWNSVILLE – Rising up out of the winter weary farm fields, 400-foot tall wind turbines south of Oakfield stand like white sentinels against the azure sky, the seven-ton blades like arms outstretched from the tower base.
To some the 269-ton wind turbines represent the flagship of renewable energy resources in Wisconsin, while others claim wind farms are nothing more than a pipe dream and a blight on the landscape.
“What used to be a rural view of farmland, hills and woodlots and a church steeple in LeRoy, is now littered with wind mills,” said Mayville resident Tony Smith, commenting on the wind turbines erected in Dodge County as part of Invenergy’s Forward Wind Energy Center project.
With an approved permit for 133 wind turbines, the wind farm located in northeast Dodge County and southern Fond du Lac County is touted as the state’s single largest wind farm project since 2001, and perhaps the most embattled.
Since its inception, the project has faced a host of legal challenges including Homeland Security concerns raised by the U.S. Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration, as well as objections from a wildlife advocacy group, Horicon Marsh Systems Advocates, concerned with the turbines impact on migratory birds.
As a result, project delays have led to increased project costs, said Joel Link, director of business development for the Midwest region of Invenergy.
“Turbine prices and materials have escalated because of the delays,” said Link, adding that the cost for the first phase of the project is around $200 million. “Depending on the manufacturer and the price we’re able to negotiate, the cost of one turbine is $2 million and that doesn’t even cover the cost to erect them.”
Link said Invenergy is currently in the process of erecting 66 turbines but expects to add 20 wind turbines that will be fully operational by early summer. The 86 turbines could supply electricity for 43,500 homes. An Invenergy spokesman said a good rule of thumb is that one turbine supplies enough electricity for 500 homes.
The Chicago-based developer has a permit to build 133 turbines but the permit issued by the Public Service Commission holds certain contingencies.
“Due to the two-mile setback requirements from the Horicon Marsh, the second phase of the project will be conditional based on the outcome of avian studies ordered by the PSC,” Link said. “We may have the ability to add additional turbines based on that study by potentially moving closer to the marsh, but we have other areas we could add to without doing that.”
The project is good news for landowners and town and county governments who stand to profit from the wind farm.
Invenergy will pay out over $500,000 annually in rent monies to hosting landowners while Dodge County will realize $105,000 and the townships of LeRoy and Lomira will share $25,000 in annual income. Fond du Lac County will receive $126,000 in annual payments while the townships of Oakfield and Byron will share $90,000 in payments.
“This is a win-win situation for everyone,” said Town of Oakfield Board member Albert Messner. “This revenue will help to reduce taxes and provide electricity for all as it enters into our grid locally.”
Payments to landowners and municipalities will continue throughout the life of the project – an anticipated minimum of 25 years.
“However, once we’ve reached that point, we can either re-permit the project and rebuild it with the latest technology or if we can’t get a permit or the community has grown so much that it doesn’t make sense anymore, then we will decommission the project,” Link said.
The race for wind power
The appearance of three wind farms in the area is testimony to the plentiful wind resources in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties. According to the American Wind Energy Association, last summer Wisconsin ranked 18th in the country in generating wind power. That number could increase as the Cedar Ridge, Blue Sky Green Field and Forward Wind Center projects come on line.
The combined projects will host 253 wind turbines and provide up to 380 megawatts of power.
“Right now renewable resources contribute only a small percentage to the state’s energy resources. Wisconsin’s renewable portfolio standard – of which wind is a part of – could grow to as much as 20 percent by 2025,” said Link, a member of the Governor’s Task Force on renewable energy. “Wind is not an energy source that’s going to supply 100 percent of our needs; it’s a partial answer to the equation of our growing demand.”
Beauty or blight
Smith said the towering turbines have polluted the landscape near his Mayville home.
“This is what some people think is going to be the energy-maker of the future. When are these futuristic brainiacs going to realize that fossil fuels and coal-burning plants are here to stay?” he said.
Presently Wisconsin relies primarily on coal-fired plants for its electricity. However, Jackie Blankenberg of Waupun believes that wind energy is an important part of the state’s effort to build its portfolio of renewable resources.
“Those wind turbines represent Wisconsin’s effort to keep up with the rest of the states in wind power. It’s time to realize that we need to tap our own resources and stop relying on everyone else for energy,” Blankenberg said.
Soon some of the power surging through Blankenberg’s Waupun home could come from the wind turbines gracing the Niagara Escarpment to the east.
Eric Kostecki, a representative of Wisconsin Public Power Inc., one of four utilities that will buy energy from the Forward Wind Energy project, said local consumers could very well profit from the nearby wind farm.
“The energy we will purchase from Invenergy goes into our power supply mix, so it’s realistic that all of our members will get to realize the benefit of the wind project,” Kostecki said.
By Colleen Kottke
14 January 2008
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