Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has approved construction of a 200-megawatt wind energy project

The Capital Times
PSC approves huge state wind farm

By Kevin Murphy
Correspondent for The Capital Times
July 9, 2005

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has approved construction of a 200-megawatt wind energy project that will feature up to 130 turbine generators dotting a 50-square mile site in Dodge and Fond du Lac counties.

Forward Energy, of Chicago, last September proposed the project, which will be first large-scale wind farm in the state. The project garnered praised as a source of clean, renewable energy, but came under criticism as a potential hazard for birds and bats due to its location within miles of the Horicon marsh, a state and federal wildlife area.

PSC Chairman Daniel Ebert called the project "an environmental winner," as it lacked the air and water quality issues usually associated with coal or natural gas fired power plants. It furthers the state's goal of producing 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources within 10 years and nearby transmission lines also made the project a less complicated case for the commissioners, Ebert said.

Commissioner Mark Meyer noted that the land-use issues raised by the 32,000-acre project had "pitted neighbor against neighbor" but hoped they would "come together" in time and accept the wind farm.

Although concerns were raised about the impacts on migratory and nesting birds by locating the project within a few miles of Horicon marsh, the country's largest freshwater cattail wetland, the commissioners said research, although incomplete, indicates the impact on avian and bat mortality would not be significant.

"We want to make sure our actions don't harm this treasure," said Ebert, who mentioned that he grew up within 30 miles of the marsh.

The nearby Neda mine, home to an estimated hundreds of thousands of bats, also posed a potential hurdle for the project. However, the Environmental Impact Statement and Forward's studies showed that the risks to birds and bats from the turbines' whirling blades posed less of a risk to birds than feral cats, moving vehicles, and windows, Ebert said.

The commissioners rejected a suggestion to delay construction of the project until more comprehensive studies were completed. Instead, they created a two-mile setback for turbines from the marsh property, which could be lessened if ongoing studies showed the turbines to have minimal impact on bird and bat populations.

In consultation with the Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forward will conduct a more expansive study of the wind farm's impact on bird breeding, nesting, and migratory bird functions.

Madison Gas and Electric Co. and Wisconsin Public Power, Inc. each will purchase 40 megawatts of power produced by the wind farm and Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service has contracted to buy 70 megawatts of power.

Calls to Forward Energy on the project construction timetable weren't immediately returned.

Forward is a subsidiary of Invenergy Wind LLC, which has 25 wind energy projects capable of producing 2,500 megawatts of power under development nationwide.


Published: 10:14 AM 7/9/05