The first wind farm built in Wisconsin in at least five years will open next year and provide power to Dairyland Power Cooperative, the cooperative's CEO said Wednesday.
Barbara Nick of Dairyland announced the expansion of the company's wind energy supply during the cooperative's annual meeting, held in La Crosse.
Dairyland, which supplies power in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, will buy the energy produced at the Quilt Block Wind Farm, being developed by EDP Renewables North America southeast of Platteville in Lafayette County.
Dairyland is already one of the top utilities in Wisconsin in generation of renewable energy. Check out this JSOnline interactive to see how different utilities stack up.
The project is expected to begin construction next year and deliver energy by the end of the year, Dairyland said.
EDP Renewables received local permits years ago for the project, which will consist of up to 49 turbines.
The expansion of wind power comes as Dairyland is moving forward with an array of 12 solar projects that will generate 15 megawatts of electricity. Ground was broken last month on one of those projects, in Richland.
"Dairyland's growing solar and wind initiatives are key components of our strategic objective of resource diversification— essentially, less coal, with more renewables and low-emitting generation sources," Nick said in a statement.
When it's completed, the project will supply over 15% of Wisconsin’s wind power, according to Renew Wisconsin, an advocacy group that tracks renewable energy developments.
"Dairyland is making the most of the opportunity at hand to lock in the benefits of low-cost clean energy for its member cooperatives," said Tyler Huebner, Renew's executive director, in a statement.
The announcement came two days after WPPI Energy in Sun Prairie announced its plan to add 100 megawatts of renewable energy to help it meet a need in the years ahead for more energy sources.
Wind has become more cost-effective given improving technology, including longer blades and taller steel towers. The extension of tax credits by Congress late last year has spurred a boom in wind project development.
Quilt Block has been one of two projects being actively developed in Wisconsin. The other is the Highland Wind Farm in St. Croix County. After a court ruling last year, the state Public Service Commission is considering its next steps involving that project.
But even more wind energy is now in the pipeline in Wisconsin.
In filings last month, energy developers or utilities asked the Midwest grid operator to analyze the ability of the Midwest transmission grid to handle three possible new wind farms in Wisconsin.
They include a 150-megawatt project in Rock County, another 150-megawatt project in Monroe County, and a 60-megawatt project in Green County.
It's unclear who would develop the projects or whether any or all of them will advance beyond the study phase. These filings are preliminary in nature and are often done at or the near the beginning of the development process for a wind farm — long before a developer would apply for state permits for a project.
But it's the first time in years that this many wind projects have been under consideration in Wisconsin — a place that wind developers stopped working amid moves in the first term of the Walker administration and the Legislature to consider property-rights legislation that would make wind-farm construction more challenging.
"We haven’t had this many in the queue for a long time," said Michael Vickerman, Renew's senior policy director. "Some of these projects are going to go forward, irrespective of state policy. That tells you something about wind power's affordability."
Improved technology and pricing may be making Wisconsin wind sites more attractive even though they aren't as ideal wind spots as can be found in the Dakotas, Minnesota or Iowa, said Chris Kunkle of Wind on the Wires.
"The technology is so much better than it was 10 years ago when companies were looking at Wisconsin, and so the geographic limitations are much smaller than they used to be," Kunkle said. As a result a project that was not viable before may be now, he said.
Wisconsin utilities have largely already met their renewable targets set out under a 2006 state law, but utilities see adding renewables as important to help them comply with national regulations to regulate emissions linked to global warming.
The federal Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration's plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, is currently on hold given a stay issued by the U.S. Supreme Court days before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
But utilities are increasingly emphasizing publicly that they expect to need to address climate change.
For its part, Dairyland has signed on with other cooperatives across the country — and the state of Wisconsin — that have filed suit to block the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan.
But Dairyland is planning ahead for a world with dropping emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, Nick said at Wednesday's meeting, according to a report in the Lacrosse Tribune.
"We must plan for a carbon-constrained future, regardless of legislative or regulatory actions," she said, according to the report.