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
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
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
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.
2008, Wisconsin witnessed both the windfall of economic promise and
blowback, as the growing wind industry experienced growing pains.
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.
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 say.
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 turbines.
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.”
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.
just outlaws windmills. That’s what it does,” said Rep. Jim Soletski
(D-Green Bay), head of the state Assembly Energy and Utilities
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 state.
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.
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
• Transportation difficulties.
Permitting hurdles with the state Department of Transportation have
slowed the transport of oversize wind components across the state.
contributed to a sharp drop in wind-power components being shipped to
the Port of Milwaukee last year, said Betty Nowak, the port marketing
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.
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
• 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.
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
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
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.
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 Pennsylvania.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.”