We Energies won approval from state regulators Thursday to buy the Montfort wind farm in Iowa County for 27 million.
The purchase, from a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources Inc. of Florida, was approved in a 2-1 vote by the state Public Service Commission.
The wind farm can generate enough power to supply 9,000 homes.
PSC chairman Phil Montgomery and commissioner Ellen Nowak said a key reason they endorsed the deal was that We Energies would have development rights to build a new wind farm on the site in the future with turbines that generate more power.
Wind farm development has been dogged by opposition and siting challenges in various parts of the state, the commissioners noted.
“Obtaining a site where turbines already exist does have significant value,” said Nowak. “Turbine siting is a contentious and difficult process.”
We Energies buys 25.5 of the 30 megawatts of electricity generated by the wind farm, while Wisconsin Power & Light Co. of Madison buys the rest. The 20-turbine wind farm began operating in 2001.
The deal was opposed by commissioner Eric Callisto, who said ratepayers would end up paying more to We Energies for the power generated at Montfort, which is located in the town of Eden in Iowa County.
Callisto, a longtime supporter of renewable energy projects, agreed with the customer group Citizens’ Utility Board, which said the proposal saddles utility customers with more costs through 2026 than they are paying now for the power generated at Montfort.
The wind farm is located on a ridge that is one of the highest areas in southwestern Wisconsin, according to the renewable advocacy group Renew Wisconsin.
The Montfort project was the largest wind farm in the state when it opened in 2001, but has since been overtaken by much larger projects developed by We Energies in Fond du Lac and Columbia counties.
The utility doesn’t need the wind farm to comply with its 2015 renewable energy targets, but will use it to help it comply with future requirements. Under state law, each utility’s renewable target will grow along with electricity sales after 2015.
We Energies says its construction of the Glacier Hills Wind Park last year and a biomass power plant being built in north central Wisconsin will help it comply with the state renewable goals. The utility said this month it expects to be in compliance through 2019.
The utility expects to complete the Montfort purchase by the end of the month, depending on when the PSC issues its written decision, company spokesman Brian Manthey said.
Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens’ Utility Board, expressed disappointment in the decision, saying the commission couldn’t justify benefits for customers in the near term.
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