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Wisconsin feels turbulence over pulling power from air

State finds more opposition than expected to wind turbines

Given Wisconsin’s reputation as a “green” state, it would seem that a proposal to construct wind farms in Lake Michigan and Lake Superior off the state’s shores would easily be approved.

But opposition to land-based wind farms and the slow development of wind power in the state have some wind power advocates gearing up for a fight with those expressing concern about humming noise, flickering shadows and ruined views.

“Anytime you talk about putting anything in the lake, there is going to be opposition,” said Wisconsin state Sen. Jeffrey Plale (D). “People say it will be ugly. But if you go seven miles out, it will be beyond the sightline because of natural curvature of the earth. If we’re serious about capturing wind, the lake is a logical place to look.”

On April 3, Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission voted to assess the potential for offshore wind turbines in Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, following the lead of Ohio, which has been investigating wind potential in the shallow waters of Lake Erie. Research into offshore wind potential is in the beginning stages, and no projects would be seen for at least five years.

Wisconsin’s neighbors Minnesota and Iowa rank third and fourth nationally in total megawatts of wind power as of 2007, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Those states boast more than 1,200 megawatts capacity from wind, whereas Wisconsin ranks 23rd with 53 megawatts.

Wind power is considered a key to fulfilling 2006 legislation in Wisconsin mandating that 10 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2015.

But opposition to wind farms runs deep. Last month, the state Senate let die a bill by Plale that would have curbed municipal and county governments’ ability to ban wind turbines.

“A lot of fear-mongering and misinformation went on,” he said. “Now that process is delayed through at least January 2009, and there can be a lot of mischief before then.”

A 133-turbine wind farm by the Chicago company Invenergy Wind LLC near Horicon Marsh in central Wisconsin is partially constructed and operating despite vociferous opposition.

“You’ve got to hear these things, they drive you nuts,” said Joe Breaden, a retired high school ecology teacher who says he was mocked 20 years ago for warning about global warming. “It’s a droning sound mixed in with a woo-woo-woo. It reminds me of the ‘Twilight Zone.’ ”

Breaden is all for renewable power but thinks wind is inefficient, compared with solar. He is president of the citizens group Horicon Marsh Systems Advocates, which he says “won’t give up until there’s no stone unturned” in its efforts to halt the wind farm.

Marquette University student Kollin Petrie, 19, said his family refused to participate in a recent wind project on farmland in Fond du Lac County, north of Milwaukee. Wind power producers often pay farmers to erect turbines on their land.

“I’ve seen the effects,” Petrie said. “They have to use humongous cranes to put them up, and now there are all these gravel roads cutting the farmland into random sections. It’s kind of sad. My father felt the price wouldn’t justify the cost we’d lose in land and aesthetic value.”

We Energies faced considerable opposition to its recent 88-turbine, $300 million Blue Sky Green Field project in Fond du Lac County. The company is in discussions with one landowner angry that a turbine was accidentally built 47 feet closer to his property than state guidelines allow.

We Energies wind farm project manager Andy Hesselbach said opposition usually dies down once a project is constructed.

“If you talk to people with projects put up three to four years ago, it is a nonissue,” he said. “People become accustomed to it. And having the turbines reduces the amount of urban development. You could look at our turbine today or 50 homes 10 years from now.”

By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer


12 April 2008