Even Walker Can’t Stop Wisconsin Wind Energy

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The American Wind Energy Association just issued its latest annual report, and amidst all the great news, one sore thumb sticks out. That would be the great state of Wisconsin, which has been notoriously late to the US wind energy party despite its prime location in the wind-rich Upper Midwest region of the country.

However, it looks like Wisconsin is on the cusp of a great change…

Wisconsin wind energy

Whatever Happened to Wisconsin Wind?

Way back in 2011, CleanTechnica noted that Wisconsin’s wind energy sector was withering on the vine while other Midwest states were rapidly developing their wind resources.

In terms of installed wind energy capacity, the industry continues to limp along, and the latest report has the state checking in with zero — yes, zero — new wind farms under construction.

If you’re guessing that has something to do with the fossil interests of the Koch family business, run out and buy yourself a cigar. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s alliance with the influential billionaires prompted Bloomberg to issue this comment last fall:

Five years after Walker took office, renewable energy in Wisconsin is lagging the boom in the rest of the country and industry blames the two-term governor for the shortfall. Walker and his appointees have pushed new restrictions on windmills, cut tax incentives and research funding…

How bad is the lag? Last month Thomas Content of The Journal-Sentinel toted up the installed wind capacity figure for Wisconsin since 2011 and came up with 648 megawatts. That sounds all right except that it’s only a 3 percent increase.

Other nearby states in the Upper Midwest have been much busier since 2011. According to Content’s figures, among the five other states in the region, installed capacity has increased at least 19 percent.

Currently leading the pack is Iowa with 6,212 megawatts of installed capacity, thanks partly to investor Warren Buffet’s $1.9 billion wind investment in the state.

Second-lowest to Wisconsin on the ladder is Michigan, but it’s not a very close second. Michigan clocks in at 1,531 megawatts, more than double the installed capacity of Wisconsin, and up a whopping 306% from 2011.

Wisconsin’s wind sector also fails to stack up against other states in the vast grid operated by MISO, which has this to say about the importance of wind energy and other renewables:

Wind represents the most abundant clean energy fuel source in the Midwest…we are working on providing equitable solutions for tapping into our renewable energy-rich region and creating opportunities for everyone to benefit from the use of clean energy resources.

And, here’s a MISO map illustrating Wisconsin’s potential role in all this:

wind capacity map

Wind Industry Sneaks Into Wisconsin

While installed capacity has stalled out in Wisconsin, the wind industry has actually created some “stealth” wind jobs in the state. The latest Wisconsin wind roundup from AWEA include these nuggets:

Wisconsin is a national leader in wind-related manufacturing. Many of the skills Wisconsin workers possess easily transfer to wind energy manufacturing, providing thousands of new jobs and spurring billions in investment.

Wisconsin currently has at least 26 manufacturing facilities producing components for the wind industry, including major tower manufacturer Broadwind Energy.

Still, the state’s wind-related jobs max out in the 500-1,000 range, while other states have been doing much better:

us wind industry

As for Wisconsin’s potential wind energy capacity, there is a lot of room to grow. AWEA cites an Energy Department estimate of enough wind generation to power 592,000 average homes, compared to the current installed equivalent of 148,000 homes.

Wind Could Get Last Laugh In Wisconsin

Regardless of its past, Wisconsin may be getting ready to sprint ahead. Earlier this week, the Fon du Lac Reporter noted that the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) has compiled a study of the health effects of wind farms, concluding that there is no “conclusive evidence that the turbines cause human health problems.”

That’s a pretty big step forward for the PSC, which has been caught up in a matrix of legislative roadblocks for wind energy development in the state.

The Journal-Sentinel (here’s that link again) also lists the pending development of 50 new turbines in the southwestern part of the state, spearheaded by Spain’s EDP Renewables. Notably, the turbines total up to 99 megawatts, meaning that the wind farm would not require PSC approval.

A second wind farm of 44 turbines has already received PSC approval. The project, advanced by Wisconsin-based Emerging Energies, has been delayed by a court challenge brought by local residents.

The company hopes to win them over by providing “good neighbor” payments to nearby property owners, in addition to lease payments for owners of the turbine sites, so stay tuned.

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Images: top two via AWEA, bottom via MISO.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3141 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

12 thoughts on “Even Walker Can’t Stop Wisconsin Wind Energy

  • No “conclusive evidence that wind turbines cause human health problems”? Mealy-mouthed suggestio falsi, as you would expect from officials appointed by Scott Walker. In fact there is no evidence of any kind, apart from neuroses created by anti-wind campaigners.

    • Iowa / IL love Scott Walker. All of the wind energy that *should* be installed in Wisconsin simply leaves their state and then gets imported into them, breaking the economics of THEIR energy producers.

      Republicans have put themselves into a situation where they cannot win.

      The same thing happened in Ohio. Republican rhetoric ruined their wind manufacturing base and now those high end jobs will never come back.

      But hey, Coal money paid me to. #Politics

      • This is absolutely correct. Wisconsin meets its minimal 10% RPS only by importing a fair share of it from MN and IA (and a little from Canada even, if I recall.)

  • “Good neighbor” payouts is an excellent approach. They should be standard in all cases in my view – and why not? I think they will find that reports of vague health effects go down in direct proportion to payments received.

    • Plus, irrespective of health complaints, there might be other issues related to noise, shuddering shadows, visual intrusion, dust from access roads etc.
      Why not simply acknowledge that there might be some inconvenience, and compensate people for it? Some communities might not be happy with the price being offered. So be it. Let other communities bid a cheaper price. There are more than enough sites available. But certainly give something back to the communities that host these sites.
      It’s good manners, and it’s good business.

  • If Wisconsin had any geology worth fracking, you’d be seeing a very different government attitude about intervention, that’s for sure.

    • Our geology may not have fracking, but we have excellent sand for fracking. And sand mining absolutely exploded when ND fracking did.

  • Clean energy is what good people want because they want a future for our children. Walker is against all good from pollution control to education, healthcare and doing what is correct to save lives. This is something walker and his God Lord God and savior david Koch is against. They want population control kill as many as you can as many ways as you can. The same way Fred Koch showed stalin and Germany in the 1930`s

  • Broadwind Energy, mentioned in the article, makes the towers that are often installed for MidAmerican Energy’s projects in Iowa. I rather wish that MidAmerican Energy would put substantial pressure on Broadwind to move to Iowa or Minnesota. It’s not like Broadwind is the only tower manufacturer in the region.

  • Well as you can see on the map, Wisconsin is only about 200-400 miles away from wind resources to the west that has 20% higher capacity factor. So while it’s dissappointing to lag Iowa and Walker is a schmuck, it’s really not surprising that they’d lag the massive resources to the west.

    I’m surprised that Wisconsin hasn’t played a larger role in making wind turbines. Wisconsin has a large power electronics and electric motor industry and a skilled workforce for making similar contraptions.

    • Take a look at wind resources when using 140 meter hub heights.


  • Republicans like that scumbag Walker are doing everything they can to block clean wind and solar because they are in the pockets of the Koch brothers and the dirty fossil fuel industry. I can’t understand why Wisconsin would vote for this crook Walker, who has destroyed their unions, and sold their government out to corporate special interest.

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