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Future of 3 southwest Wisconsin wind farms ride on high-voltage line

DARLINGTON, Wis. – A San Francisco energy developer is eyeing southwest Wisconsin for a prospective wind farm that would be among the largest in the Midwest.

Pattern Energy is developing plans for the installation of 120 to 200 turbines across more than 30,000 acres in Lafayette and Iowa counties.

Uplands Wind would be the company’s first utility-scale farm in Wisconsin, said Ward Marshall, senior director of business development.

“Access to transmission line capacity and regional power prices make this an attractive renewable energy market,” he said.

The project is contingent upon the construction of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line, which would connect the 600-megawatt farm to the electric grid.

The 345-kilovolt line will span 100-miles from Dubuque County to Dane County, Wis., but its construction has been challenged in state and federal courts.

Marshall said construction of the wind farm would begin no sooner than 2023, but Pattern Energy has negotiated some lease agreements with landowners.

Meteorological towers that collect wind data will be installed in the fall.

Although turbines have not been sited, the wind farm would span multiple townships that might include Belmont in Lafayette County and Linden in southern Iowa County.

Iowa County Administrator Larry Bierke said Pattern Energy expressed interest in utilizing portions of the nearly 600-acre county farm west of Dodgeville.

The property is used as farmland and pasture and houses a nursing facility and wastewater treatment plant. The majority is maintained as natural prairie by conservation groups.

Pattern Energy has not indicated on which tracts of the property it wishes to build, Bierke said.

“It seems advantageous to consider and explore this, especially if the county isn’t looking to develop the farm,” he said. “I think wind turbines and a natural prairie are a nice mix of uses.”

Another developer hopes to expand its energy footprint in Lafayette County with two additional wind farms.

EDP Renewables North America – which constructed the 98-megawatt Quilt Block Wind Farm project west of Darlington in 2017 – has planned a 41-megawatt extension to Quilt Block in Kendall Township and a 99-megawatt farm in Shullsburg Township.

The company installed three meteorological towers in support of the proposed projects in 2018 and 2019.

A 2021 groundbreaking was considered, but delays caused by COVID-19 and uncertain market conditions caused the company to pause.

Construction for the Shullsburg farm has been postponed until 2023, and the Quilt Block extension could be nixed altogether.

“The southern Wisconsin energy market is in flux right now,” said Project Manager Kathryn Meyer.

If Cardinal-Hickory Creek is constructed, alterations to the interconnection grid would be significant, with potential impacts to energy prices and buyer interest, she said.

“The utilities are really looking for a little bit more time to better understand what their needs and wants are going to be in three years and aren’t comfortable making the kind of financial commitment that we would need to build the project sooner than that,” Meyer said.