Over the years, a main concern with turbines has remained the impact on environment and health. Since the implementation of turbines in areas, there have been reports of noise disturbances or shadow flicker from turbines. Companies work to mitigate these issues. Speaking locally, Dierksheide said if property owners experience shadow flicker, or the repeated passing of a shadow from the rotation of the blades, in excess of 30 hours a year, the issue will be mitigated by the placement of blinds.
EDEN – Standing beside a wind turbine in Alliant Energy’s Cedar Ridge Wind Farm, located in the towns of Eden and Empire, you can hear the low hum of the energy being generated as the 400-foot wood and fiberglass blades cut through the air.
Situated on a hill, this turbine is one of 41 across 12.2 square miles of land, which came into operation in December 2008. Generating an average of 68 megawatts, or MW, of emissions-free energy each year at an output rate of about 32 percent, this wind farm can power about 17,000 homes, according to Brian Dierksheide, Cedar Ridge Wind Farm site manager–Wind Generation.
This is not the only wind farm in the area.
In Brownsville, Wisconsin Public Service, Alliant Energy and Madison Gas & Electric own shares of Forward Wind Energy Center, which runs 86 turbines, providing 129 MW, according to Amy Jahns, Senior Communications specialist with We Energies.
Located along the eastern side of Lake Winnebago between Calumet and Marshfield, We Energies Blue Sky Green Field has 88 turbines, producing 145 MW. In service since 1999, two turbines producing 1.3 MW make up Byron Wind Park, also owned by We Energies.
Between these three sites, the energy generated can power about 85,400 homes, according to Jahns.
Renewables look to statewide growth
Living along the Niagara Escarpment cultivates an “excellent wind resource,” said UW Extension Sustainable Design Specialist and Energy Program Manager Sherie Gruder.
“In Wisconsin, somehow wind seems to be a political issue, as compared with Iowa, for example, where wind energy is one-third of their electricity at the seventh lowest cost in the United States and is a huge engine for their economy by choice,” Gruder said.
In Wisconsin as a whole, 461 turbines generate enough energy to power an estimated 173,000 homes according to Renew Wisconsin.
Currently, Wisconsin produces 2.3 percent of the United States’ wind energy, up from 1 percent a few years ago, said Dierksheide, and the industry has the momentum to keep growing. Alliant alone is looking to add 1,150 MW by 2021. By 2050, the company as a whole is looking to stop using coal and cut carbon emissions by 80 percent, according to a press release from the company.
The renewable energies sector as a whole is growing, said Scott Coenen, executive director of the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum, which looks to cut through the politicization and polarization of renewable energies.
On a tour of various renewable energy sites throughout the state this past summer, Coenen demonstrated “what this emerging industry could be like in Wisconsin” through speaking of the possibilities for “cheap power” and economic growth and development, stating that if all projects in the pipeline come to fruition, renewable sources will make up around 17 percent of the state’s energy.
Over the years, a main concern with turbines has remained the impact on environment and health. Since the implementation of turbines in areas, there have been reports of noise disturbances or shadow flicker from turbines.
Companies work to mitigate these issues. Speaking locally, Dierksheide said if property owners experience shadow flicker, or the repeated passing of a shadow from the rotation of the blades, in excess of 30 hours a year, the issue will be mitigated by the placement of blinds. With the advance of turbines, some have the ability to engage in “sector management,” or the shutting down of a turbine at a certain time of day or year to mitigate shadow flicker.
“I will tell you if it’s anything, we will take care of it,” he said, adding that mitigation efforts are also undertaken for any television interference.
While Dierksheide stated the turbines do make noise, Gruder said that with technological progress, turbines are have grown in efficiency and quietness. With the Cedar Ridge turbines measuring in at around 400 feet tall, newer turbines are upwards of 500 feet, allowing for more capture of wind as the larger blades lead to a larger swept area.
However, Gruder said there are “no objective measures of health impacts of turbines according to peer-reviewed scientific literature in the United States, Canada and other countries.” Despite testing on effects on the sound of turbines disturbing sleep, causing stress and more, she said, there is no conclusive evidence of a relationship between turbine noise and health effects, she said.
What have been found, she said, are that “subject symptoms” correlate “with a negative bias in personal/political attitudes towards wind turbines, whether people see financial gain from turbines, etc.,” as well as health issues stemming from use of fossil fuels.
Asmtha and respiratory sickness has been linked to 26 million “restricted activity days” and 5 million lost workdays,” according to a study done by the Scientific American, a science and technology magazine. Linked also is premature death.
“According to a study by MIT, air pollution from power generation causes 52,000 premature deaths per year with the largest impact seen in the east-central US and Midwest,” she said. “Coal particulates are linked to four leading causes of death: heart disease, respiratory illness, cancer and stroke.”
The risk to wildlife is also being mitigated. The best way to do so, Dierksheide said, is by the siting of the wind farm through studying mitigation patterns.
In recent years, wildlife studies have begun to investigate the impact on the environment, according to the Office of Efficiency & Renewable Energy. To reduce bat mortality, the rate of which turbines spin is also being increased. In event of low winds and temperature conditions suited to bats, Dierksheide said they will shut down turbines so bats will not be impacted.
Those who have wind turbines on their property lease part of their land to companies like Alliant, receiving a fixed amount in return. In the event that something goes wrong with the turbine, the cost does not fall to the landowner, but the companies will make the repairs. Any damages caused to the land, such as compaction or crop loss, said Dierksheide, “we will make right.”
“Relationships with the community have been really good,” Dierkheide said of the Cedar Ridge Wind Farm. If there is an issue, he stated, those they work with can call him or others who work for Alliant and they will help.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” he said.
Renewable energy, continuous benefits
As the transmission system is connected to the power grid, investments in wind energy can, in turn, lead to improvements in the grid, Dierksheide said.
Wind energy does require more capital in initial investment than fossil fuels, said the Office of Efficiency & Renewable Energy, but once built, it is “one of the lowest-priced energy sources available today, costing between two and six cents kilowatt-hour, depending on the wind resource and the particular project’s financing.”
Coal falls within this price range at 3.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to The Brookings Institution. While wind energy has nearly no fuel costs, 85 percent of the cost of coal is tied up in fuel.
It also extends the life of fossil fuels, of which there are a finite supply. Due to the use of wind energy alone at Cedar Ridge Wind Farm, as of June 2018, coal in the amount of a 99-mile train has been saved.
Over the next 20 years, Dierksheide said, the wind farm will offset 180 tons of nitrogen oxide, 168,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 670 tons of sulfur dioxide and eight pounds of mercury each year.
“We need coal plants, but I want to stretch out that fuel supply as long as possible,” said Dierksheide. “I believe it’s a good thing to have it for tomorrow.”
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