While the use of wind power has been on a steady rise nationally, Wisconsin has seen minimal growth in the past four years. Experts say this is because of a lack of support for wind in the state.
But the future of wind could be changing because of 2017 plans for a new wind farm in Lafayette County, a county southwest of Madison and just north of the Illinois border. EDP Renewables, a global renewable energy company based in Spain, plans to build nearly 50 wind turbines, which could generate up to 99 megawatts of electricity, Tyler Huebner, Renew Wisconsin executive director, said.
Despite this new project, renewable energy advocates say more action needs to be taken in the state to move toward sustainable energy.
Amount of wind power in Wisconsin
In 2013, only six new wind turbines were built in the state of Wisconsin, according to Renew Wisconsin numbers. In 2012, only four new wind turbines were added. No new wind turbines were created in 2014, 2015 or so far this year, Huebner said.
In 2014, Wisconsin was among the three lowest states for total electricity coming from wind power, according to the U.S. Department of Energy 2014 Renewable Energy Data Book. The cumulative electricity is measured in megawatts. Seven megawatts is enough electricity to power around 1,000 average sized homes for one year.
In the midwest, some states’ electricity from wind in 2014 was more than 5,600 megawatts, according to the data book. Wisconsin, however, only had a total of 648 megawatts from wind.
The last time significant contributions to wind were made in Wisconsin was in 2011, when We Energies built 90 turbines in Columbia county, according to Renew Wisconsin numbers.
National wind power installations, however, have steadily increased every year since 2000, according to the data book. In 2000, the total megawatts produced by wind electricity was only 2,578 megawatts. In 2014 that number rose to 65,879 megawatts.
Keith Reopelle, Clean Wisconsin senior policy director, said wind power is a rapidly growing source of energy for the U.S.
“We [as a nation] are building more wind power than anything else,” Reopelle said.
‘Anti-wind’ attitudes in Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, there have been “anti-wind” sentiments, especially from realtors and lawmakers, Reopelle said.
The lack of growth in wind power in Wisconsin is largely due to lack of legislation to support renewable energy, Huebner said. He said there are no longer policies in place to encourage renewable energy investment.
“We’ve got enough power plants, and we’ve met our renewable policy standard and so there’s no driver for further investment in wind at this time for many of the utilities,” Huebner said.
Huebner said a policy passed in the mid 2000s that required Wisconsin to have 10 percent of its statewide electricity sales comes from renewable sources. But once that benchmark was met in 2013, companies stopped investing in wind power, Huebner said.
Rep. Amanda Stuck, D-Appleton, said another example of lack of support for renewable energy in Wisconsin is a bill that would cut $7 million to Focus on Energy, an organization that helps solar power users by providing rebates and information. The bill is headed to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk to be signed.
Reopelle said yet another bill, which would have put limits on how close a wind turbine could be to a building, created a “hostile” environment for wind power in Wisconsin. The bill did not make it through the Legislature. The legislation, which was backed by Walker, would have made the distance so far it would have essentially prevented new wind turbines from even being created. Reopelle said the fact the bill was even considered shows lack of support for wind energy.
Some have expressed concern wind turbines could pose health consequences, with some saying the turbines gave them migraines, according to USA Today Network-Wisconsin.
Reopelle, however, said there is not a single study that indicates a health risk associated with being near wind farms. While he voiced his concern for the health of individuals, claims of health risk are not scientifically supported, he said.
Advantages of wind power
Reopelle said wind energy is the least costly and the most effective renewable energy. He said wind energy is compatible with farming, and most wind farms are put on agricultural land.
Another advantage of wind power is turbines take up a small amount of space, but have a big energy contribution, Huebner said. Each individual wind turbine adds two-and-a-half megawatts of electricity. To get the same amount of power from solar panels, it would require six or seven acres of land.
Reopelle said one of the best ways to get wind power growing again in Wisconsin is to increase the standard that requires 10 percent of statewide electricity sales to come from renewable sources.
The new wind farm being built in Lafayette County could also help to solve Wisconsin’s wind energy problems. Huebner said if the project comes online it would create a 15 percent bump in Wisconsin’s wind capacity.
Stuck said she hopes to see more state investment in wind in years to come.
“Wisconsin should not lag behind in anything … but definitely not renewable energy because those really are the jobs of the future,” Stuck said.