WASHBURN – For five years Bayfield County has been exploring the possibility of using wind power as a supplemental source of energy to lower its utility costs. After doing tremendous data collection and analysis, results were revealed to the public on June 24. The companies who performed the analysis – Robert H. Owen, a consulting engineer and meteorologist, and Windustry, a wind energy consultant – gave a presentation.
Several dozen people assembled in the conference room at the Bayfield County Annex Building last Monday to hear what these specialists had to say about harnessing wind in Bayfield County. Some local officials attended: Bayfield County Administrator, Mark Abeles-Allison and supervisors Bill Bussey, John Bennett, Kenneth Jardine, and Delores Kittleson, and Washburn’s mayor, Scott Griffiths.
“We’re trying to see if there’s a wind resource in Bayfield County on County Forest Land of which the county owns 170,000 acres,” said Abeles-Allison who introduced the speakers. “We’re still very early in the process.”
In other words, this presentation was purely educational for the benefit of the community as well as County board supervisors who would ultimately make the decision.
“Just as we have county forest, which is a tremendous resource for Bayfield County as far as its impact on reducing taxes, we’re constantly looking for alternative sources of income that can help lower taxes for our residents,” Abeles-Allison said, “and wind resources is one of these areas we’re looking at.”
Lowering the county’s carbon footprint is clearly another advantage. It’s very complicated setting up a wind project, financing it and dealing with the power once it’s generated, the presenters said, but nonetheless a worthwhile venture.
Mike Amman from Bayfield County Forestry spoke briefly about how he helped select the four or five potential sites for wind production.
“We settled on the Mt. Ashwabay Ski Hill,” Amman said.
In 2008, he and Owen, looked at county lands together.
“Mt. Ashwabay really stuck out,” said Owen, “because not only was it promising in wind resource, but it also has the power line running right across the grid.’
Hooking up to this power line, or grid, would make it simpler to transmit the energy to wherever it needs to go. Also, Mt. Ashwabay, Owen said “was remote from people’s homes.”
Owen said that in 2009 Bayfield County received a grant from the Apostle Island Area Community Fund to erect a 30 meter wind tower east of the transmission line on Mt. Ashwabay. From 2009 – 2011 Bayfield County and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources collected data for Owen’s analysis. Also, Owen brought up a Sodar unit to determine wind speed.
“The Sodar is a remote sensing device using sound waves that measures the doppler shift and sound to determine wind speed,” he said. “We were trying to see how fast the wind increased with height at these sites. It did increase quite rapidly at 200 meters height.”
With his studies he concluded that “we’re probably dealing with a wind resource around 100 meters up around 16 miles per hour, which is good,” Owen said.
In 2011, the Alternative Energy Committee on Madeline Island received a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to do some studies on the island. Windustry, a 501-C3 non-profit from Minneapolis that promotes “sustainable energy solutions and empowers communities to develop and own clean energy assets,” was hired. However, the result of that study showed that wind was not feasible on the island. So the grant was transferred to Bayfield County.
“This helped fund a 60 meter wind tower on Mt. Ashwabay,” said Dan Turner, senior program analyst and project manager for Windustry, which was placed on the west side of the transmission tower.
With data analysis from both towers, the consultants estimated that using two G.E. 1.7 megawatts wind turbines, Bayfield County could produce as much as 14,000 megawatt hours a year, and since the County only uses 1,000 megawatts for their facilities, there would be excess to off-load, either to a power company or local businesses, like Mt. Ashwabay, the Iron Foundry, the Northern Lights Nursing Home, or even the schools.
“You want to manage your use so that you get the best financial benefit,” Owen said
The presenters agreed keeping it local was preferred, as selling to a power company only brings about 3 cents a kilowatt hour.
Lisa Daniels, executive director from Windustry, shared examples of some communities that have initiated wind projects.
“These are just a small sampling of projects to show you different ways they look and feel,” she said.
Each one varied in size, number of turbines, and how they were financed. Winona County Wind Project in Minnesota, for instance, used two 750 kilowatt unison direct-drive wind turbines.
“The compelling piece about this one is that county members organized it and invited someone in to develop the project,” Daniels said.
The City of Winona, several colleges, and the public schools initiated the project, though it’s privately owned. Daniels explained that one option is to hire a developer to take all the risks as well as the profits, or take the risk yourselves and keep the profits local. Basically, she’s talking about becoming an energy producer as well as a distributor.
Her second example was a partnership between Organic Valley Farms and Gunderson Lutheran Healthcare in southwestern Wisconsin.
“The project provides about 48% of Organic Valley’s total energy needs and about 89% of its electricity use at its five main facilities in Wisconsin,” she said.
What’s different about this project is they sell energy back to the power company, get a credit, then buy it back. The reason for doing this is because it wants to receive what’s called “green credit,” which can be sold, bartered or traded almost anywhere in the United States, but more importantly “green credit” proves that x-amount of renewable energy was generated by that company, which is good promotion. Some companies, like Excel Energy, are required to use a certain percentage of renewable energy from green resources.
The third example Daniels gave was S.C. Johnson in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin which set up two 1.5 megawatts commercial scale machines.
“The electricity produced goes 100% to the S.C. Johnson facility and it powers about 18% of the facility,” Daniels said.
This company differs from Organic Valley in that it didn’t negotiate with a utility to purchase the power back, in other words, it’s “behind the meter” or goes directly back into the facility.
The fourth example Daniels presented was somewhat similar to what could happen in Bayfield County: Jiminy Peek, a ski resort in Massachusetts.
“It’s got one machine – a G.E. 1.5 megawatt turbine and provides 50% of the electricity used at the ski resort,” she said.
The cost was $3,900,000 and the ski hill financed it themselves.
“The compelling piece about this one is that it’s at the top of a ski hill, and the community was very active in getting the project developed,” she said.
Though Mt. Ashwabay could hold one to four turbines, two would be plenty. Supervisors are going to have a big job assimilating all this information.
“This is about putting a project together,” Turner said. “How are you going to make money at it? How are you going to finance it? How are you going to have to sell it to break even?”
A wind developer was at the presentation to answer questions, and a landowner from Michigan with his wife warned about negative aspects of wind turbines, but all in all it was a positive event.
In closing, Abeles-Allison said, “We may not go any further, but what’s important is we’ve identified a resource.”