Over the past decade interest in developing renewable energy has been on the rise as investors look at ways to use the earth’s natural resources to satisfy the growing utility needs of people across the world. A high demand for natural energy has resulted in an increase in the number of wind farm developments across America including a proposal to develop a large wind farm incorporating 23-26 turbines near Cashton.
Wisconsin Farmer’s Union representative Darin Von Ruden and OwnEnergy representative James Damon made a presentation to a small group of citizens in Cashton on Wednesday, Aug. 26. Wind energy, also known as wind power, is the means of harnessing wind and turning it into electricity. Modern developments have increased the efficiency of wind energy, making it a viable power source, and the fastest growing
The Cashton-area wind farm being proposed would be located in Monroe County on land west, north and east of Cashton, in the towns of Portland and Jefferson. No landowner names or exact locations were revealed, but it was noted that talks have begun with landowners involved. Damon said the response for the development has been positive from landowners, with approximately a dozen landowners tentatively onboard with the project if it moves forward.
The $120 million wind farm proposal is being initiated by OwnEnergy, a Brooklyn, New York-based company that was developed in 2007. OwnEnergy was recently acquired by EDF Renewable Energy Company, a larger company with projects in the United States, Canada and Mexico and corporate offices in San Diego, Cal. OwnEnergy will operate under the umbrella of EDF.
OwnEnergy has been in discussions with Wisconsin Farmer’s Union since 2011 and meeting with land owners since 2013. VonRuden said WFU has been interested in renewable energy for several years and its association with OwnEnergy has developed into a good working relationship.
Wind energy development is more prevalent in neighboring states including Iowa, number two in the country for new development and Minnesota is in the top 10. Wisconsin is ranked number 22 in the country, with approximately 18 wind-related projects completed in the state and no new construction occurring at the present time. According to Damon, Wisconsin is further behind its neighboring states due to much uncertainty connected with Act 40, which was developed in 2009 and put a chokehold on many investors looking at projects in the state. Gov. Scott Walker has since suspended Act 40, allowing outside companies to reconsider Wisconsin for renewable energy projects.
The Cashton area project wind turbines would be roughly the same size as the two turbines presently located southwest of the village in the industrial park along Hwy. 27. A total of 55 megawatts of nameplate capacity is being sought, with approximately twice the megawatt load as the wind farm located at Montfort, in Dodge County. When fully operational the Cashton-area project would produce enough power for approximately 20,000 homes, under average conditions and provided the equipment performs with 30-percent efficiency.
The land being sought for the project is currently not zoned. Monroe County as a whole does have zoning regulations on its books, but Damon said since the proposed area in the towns of Portland and Jefferson is not zoned the project would abide by state regulations.
Gary Flock, chairman for the town of Portland said at the meeting that any and all discussion thus far with OwnEnergy has been very preliminary and that referendums or extensive feedback from residents has not yet been considered by the town boards involved.
To date, one test tower has been erected in the area to measure average wind speeds, with two or three more towers expected to be added in the near future. The measured wind speed on the current tower has averaged six meters per second.
Damon said that no turbine would be located closer than 1,250 feet from a residence (approximately¼ mile) and that sound levels per turbine would not exceed 55 decibels. As a comparison, Damon said a refrigerator, when running, is 45 decibels. There would also be a minimum set back distance from residences for the flicker effect, when sunlight is interrupted by the moving blades. All wiring from the turbines, to area substations, was expected to be buried underground.
Nothing is set in stone, but Damon estimated 60 year leases for land use to total $300,000 to $500,000, with another $250,000 to be generated in payments to affected municipalities, including Monroe County. After the meeting a few people in attendance unofficially broke down the math using $600,000 as the overall average and said what sounds like a lot of money upfront in reality averaged out to approximately over $333 per year, per turbine, over the life of the 60 year lease.
The open house in Cashton was the first advertised public meeting regarding the proposal. The road ahead is long and OwnEnergy plans to continue individual meetings with landowners until enough agreements are signed. After compiling more wind measurements, contracting an environmental impact study and exploring interconnection options with area utilities, the developers will need to seek a permit from the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin, which involves public and technical review before approval. No additional public meetings with municipal governments involved in the proposed area have been scheduled and it could be months before more information is released to the public.
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