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State's wind-power opportunities blowing away

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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

competitive advantage.”


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

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.


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.


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

components imported.


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.


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.”

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