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June 8, 2009 Wi Windpower opportunities blowing away
State's wind-power opportunities blowing away
By Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Jun. 7, 2009
Wisconsin's path to a greener energy future is anything but a breeze.
Optimism abounds that the wind power sector will create jobs and help
reduce the state's emissions of greenhouse gases. Gov. Jim Doyle's
global warming task force has recommended the state move toward
getting 25% of its electricity from wind power by 2025.
And several reports are touting the promise of job creation and
emissions reduction from tapping more renewable energy and energy
A report being released Monday by the Chicago Council on Global
Affairs concludes that the Midwestern economy can capitalize on its
wind resource and expertise in areas such as vehicle technology and
energy efficiency if the United States passes limits on greenhouse gas
Despite the region's heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants - a key
source of carbon dioxide emissions - the report says: "The Midwest has
too much at stake to remain inactive. Preserving the past is no longer
an option. There is much the region can do to prepare for a
carbon-constrained future and begin turning those challenges to its
Another report last week from the conservation group Wisconsin
Environment reached a similar conclusion, calling on Wisconsin to
follow the lead of neighboring states and seek to get 25% of power
from renewable sources by 2025.
In 2008, Wisconsin witnessed both the windfall of economic promise and
blowback, as the growing wind industry experienced growing pains.
By many accounts it was a banner year for the state. Record
development of wind power took place, with the opening of four large
wind-power projects by companies including We Energies, Invenergy and
Wisconsin Power & Light Co.
Eight times as much wind power is being generated today as there was a
little more than a year ago. But electricity from the wind still
accounts for only about 5% of the state's power supply.
Hurdles to growth have been many, including:
• Stalled projects. More than a dozen wind projects around the
state have been slowed by local opposition, wind industry advocates
Wisconsin has faced more challenges from local opponents in part
because the windy parts of the state - such as the Fox River Valley -
are more densely populated than southwestern Minnesota and Iowa, where
the Great Plains winds are sending a gust of investment in new wind
projects. During a public hearing last month, homeowners upset about
wind-power projects testified in Madison about problems caused by
Curt Kindschuh of Brownsville said people who have been impacted by
noise and other problems living close to wind turbines "have lost
their faith not only in local government, but our state government as
well. There are many people that have been affected negatively by the
improper siting of wind turbines in the area. The PSC dropped the ball
by approving turbines 1,000 feet from people's homes."
But wind developers say local ordinances around the state are blocking
hundreds of megawatts of projects from being built, sending investment
to other states. Several wind companies based in Wisconsin are now
working on projects exclusively out of state because of restrictive
local ordinances that at times require setbacks of a mile or more from
a wind turbine.
"That just outlaws windmills. That's what it does," said Rep. Jim
Soletski (D-Green Bay), head of the state Assembly Energy and
The state won't come close to meeting its renewable energy targets if
the current system isn't changed, Soletski said. He and state Sen.
Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee) are lead sponsors of a bill to set up
uniform siting standards for all wind farms that would be built in the
"The last project that was approved by local government happened in
March 2007. We've gone through more than two years without approval of
a local project," said Michael Vickerman, executive director of the
renewable-energy advocacy group Renew Wisconsin.
In response to concerns raised at last month's nine-hour public
hearing, Soletski said several changes to the bill may be made before
it is adopted.
• Transportation difficulties. Permitting hurdles with the state
Department of Transportation have slowed the transport of oversize
wind components across the state.
That contributed to a sharp drop in wind-power components being
shipped to the Port of Milwaukee last year, said Betty Nowak, the port
Nowak spent three days in Chicago at the American Wind Energy
Association's conference trying to convince wind-turbine makers that
the state was "open for business" again.
The permitting issues have been addressed, said Zach Brandon,
executive assistant at the state Department of Commerce. In letters to
the wind industry in recent months, state officials have outlined a
series of changes designed to streamline the process for moving big
components on state roads.
• Budget cuts. Even as the state is trying to restore its
standing with wind developers, the state is cutting back on funding
for renewable energy.
In Wisconsin Rapids, Energy Composites Inc. is looking to expand into
a new factory to make wind-turbine blades. The company received a $1
million community development block grant loan via the Wisconsin
Energy Independence Fund.
But applications for grants from that fund are now on hold, the
department said, after the Joint Finance Committee shifted $14.85
million from the energy fund to the general fund as part of the
state's budget deliberations.
The state hopes to tap federal stimulus funding to replenish the
energy fund, Commerce Department spokesman Tony Hozeny said.
• Competition from other states. The state has lagged behind
other states in marketing itself to the wind industry.
Wisconsin has been bypassed by international manufacturers of turbines
and blades that have been opening factories in the United States in
recent years. Major plants have opened in Colorado, Iowa and
State officials say they're working hard to try to change that
perception and to address concerns raised by the wind power industry.
Doyle attended the wind industry's annual conference in Chicago and
spoke at a wind power supply-chain conference this year.
The Commerce Department is trying to build on a network of companies
already in the business of providing components for the wind industry.
The goal: to tap into Wisconsin's history of being a supply-chain
state - whether for components used in farm machinery or automobiles -
and re-tool it to make wind-power components.
The American Wind Energy Association estimates there are at least
8,000 components in a wind turbine. That creates a lot of room for
suppliers to get into the act, given a desire by the industry to have
fewer components imported.
Brandon, of the Commerce Department, said the state hopes to tailor a
portion of the state energy grants from the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act toward companies looking to expand or locate in the
state to produce wind-power components.
The state, Brandon said, is seeking to move beyond addressing problems
that the wind industry has raised to making Wisconsin a welcome home
for component-makers looking to ramp up for growth in the wind sector
that's expected across the upper Midwest.
Making up ground
The state may have started slow, but it's making up ground as it
competes against other states for an industry that clearly has big
growth prospects, Brandon said.
"We're making it up at the right time," he said. "We're going to make
sure we're tailoring our incentive dollars to these industries. That
allows us to brush off the concerns of the past."
But a lot needs to be done, renewable energy advocates say.
Said Vickerman, of Renew Wisconsin: "I don't see much likelihood of
utilities or developers hanging around Wisconsin in a couple years, if
we don't put our permitting house in order."
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