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Published on April 14th, 2016 | by Tina Casey


Even Walker Can’t Stop Wisconsin Wind Energy

April 14th, 2016 by  

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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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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