Glenmore – Towering above farm fields on the Niagara Escarpment south of Green Bay are some of the tallest wind turbines in the nation – rising nearly 500 feet from the ground to the tip of a blade, only about 100 feet shorter than Wisconsin’s highest skyscraper, the U.S. Bank building in Milwaukee.
The Shirley Wind project is small by another measure, numbering only eight turbines, compared with the 90 turbines We Energies is building at the Glacier Hills Wind Park north of Madison. But the turbines that will start producing power this month in Glenmore can each generate more power than any other wind turbine erected so far in the state.
The Shirley Wind turbines are 100 feet taller than the turbines We Energies is building at Glacier Hills.
Shirley Wind’s project developers, though, are quick to point out that their turbines are less than half the size of some nearby cell phone towers, which rise up to 1,200 feet.
The turbines are being tested this week and will soon start producing electricity, said Bill Rakocy, of project developer Emerging Energies in Hubertus.
Several Wisconsin companies contributed to the effort, including Tower Tech of Manitowoc and Michels Wind Energy of Brownsville. Tower Tech said the towers, made in Manitowoc, are the largest it has ever built. A large crane from Manitowoc Cranes helped erect the towers.
“I can’t tell you how exciting it has been to watch this go up, and to feel and touch the turbines, and know that it’s Wisconsin through and through,” Rakocy said. “Our whole focus has been to do something that is good for Wisconsin and to focus on Wisconsin jobs.”
The project will supply power to Wisconsin Public Service Corp. of Green Bay, which in turn will sell energy credits to the state government to help it reach its goal of getting 20% of its electricity from renewable sources. Dave Helbach of the state Department of Administration said it will help increase the state government’s renewable-power purchases to 16% of the electricity it buys.
Each turbine generates about 2.5 megawatts of electricity. That is about four times as much as the first two utility-scale turbines that opened in Glenmore 12 years ago at an Earth Day ceremony presided over by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson.
The Shirley Wind project should generate enough power over a year’s time to meet the needs of 8,000 typical customers, according to Emerging Energies.
In addition to touting the environmental attributes of the wind turbines, the developers emphasized the economics of wind, which carries no fuel costs like fossil fuel power, said Ralf Sigrist, president and chief executive of Nordex USA in Chicago. A Nordex plant in Germany built the actual electricity-generating turbines for the towers.
“I can tell you what the price of electricity from these turbines is going to be five years, 10 years and 20 years from now. You can’t say that about other forms of energy generation,” said Jeff Anthony of the American Wind Energy Association.
Emerging Energies hopes to continue working with Nordex on other projects, and for those the turbines would be supplied from a new Nordex factory in Arkansas, Rakocy and Sigrist said.
Turbines stir protests
The project is located in a part of the state where opposition to wind farms has slowed their development.
Residents of rural Brown County have been vocal in protesting the expansion of wind power, raising concerns about the state’s renewable-energy policy and its standards for the siting of wind towers as well as about a large wind farm being proposed in the area by Chicago-based Invenergy.
“Welcome to the Glenmore Wind Ghetto,” reads a sign near one of the newly erected turbines. Opponents are concerned about the impact of what they term “windustrial parks” on the rural landscape, as well as close-to-home issues such as flickering shadows and turbine noise.
The project was completed as the state is trying to implement new standards that attempt to make more uniform a patchwork of regulations for the siting of wind turbines around the state.
A state Senate committee recently sent a set of proposed rules back to the state Public Service Commission for modification. As it stands today, the proposal would restrict wind farms like Shirley Wind from being built, said Rakocy. Its requirements for the distance between a tower and nearby homes or farms would have made the site undevelopable, said Michael Vickerman of Renew Wisconsin.
Emerging Energies’ vision was to have fewer, larger turbines dot the countryside rather than a host of smaller turbines that are located closer to the ground and generate less electricity.
The project also is starting up about a week after an election that saw the balance of power shift from Democrats to Republicans in Madison. The state’s current renewable power mandate – which, in addition to state government’s 20% commitment, requires state utilities to generate 10% of their total electricity from renewable energy by 2015 – was supported by Republicans in the Legislature and was drafted when Republican lawmakers controlled the statehouse and wrote the bill. It was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.
But energy experts say Governor-elect Scott Walker may take a second look at the renewable power mandate, perhaps giving utilities more time to comply with the 10% standard.
Nordex will operate the Shirley Wind project on behalf of Emerging Energies and New York-based Central Hudson Enterprises Corp., which invested $50 million last year to take a 90% ownership stake in the project.
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