The state’s search beyond its borders for wind power sources is setting the stage for a battle over construction of transmission lines to carry that electricity to Wisconsin.
“I think wherever the lines are going to go, there’s going to be opposition,” said Jim Danky, director of the citizens group Preserve Our Rural Landscape Ltd., which fought American Transmission Co. LLC’s recently approved transmission line from Rockdale to West Middleton. “What you’re really going to begin to see is a rural and urban split on energy.”
The reason for that, Danky said, is because city and state governments want to promote renewable energy.
But landowners will put up a fight if the transmission lines used to carry that energy run through rural areas, he said.
“It’s a much more problematic issue out in the country,” Danky said. “Green energy is a great idea, but rural residents want to know who’s going to be paying the daily price for it.”
But Wisconsin’s wind energy will be coming from neighboring states. The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin on Wednesday approved the Bent Tree Wind Farm plan by Wisconsin Power & Light Co., which will place about 120 turbines in Freeborn County, Minnesota. The $497 million project is expected to generate up to 200 megawatts of electricity.
Scott Reigstad, a spokesman for Alliant Energy, WP&L’s parent company, said although the energy will be transported into Wisconsin through existing lines, 11 miles of new transmission will have to be built.
ATC re-entered the transmission line debate earlier this week with plans to study three potential transmission lines from La Crosse to Madison; Dubuque, Iowa, to Madison; and from Green Bay north and south along Lake Michigan.
Anne Spaltholz, ATC spokeswoman, said the lines are critical to bringing renewable energy into Wisconsin.
But Danky said those lines likely will cut through rural areas.
“They’re going to be looking for the shortest routes available,” he said. “I haven’t seen any maps yet, but I can draw a line from southeast Minnesota to Madison or Milwaukee.”
At Thursday’s Bent Tree hearing, Public Service Commission member Mark Meyer said the project will bring the state’s total wind capacity to 2,600 megawatts, which puts Wisconsin “well on its way” to achieving the goal of generating 10 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2015.
But that goal might test the entire Midwest energy system.
Michael McMullen, director of western regional operations for the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, said increasing wind power loads present a big challenge for energy operators.
The Midwest ISO strives to keep as much energy online as is being used by customers, so there are neither overruns nor shortages, he said. During night hours, he said, that generation need is naturally reduced because less energy is being used.
But with more wind energy coming online, McMullen said, operators need additional generation sources to maintain a balance.
“If you kept adding wind power and did not change anything else with baseload power,” he said, “the potential could exist where we couldn’t even distribute energy.”
Midwest ISO’s service region covers North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois.
Public Service Commission member Lauren Azar said as the PSC continues to approve more wind farm projects, it needs to be mindful of the accompanying transmission needs and overload issues instigated by pushing new wind power based on goals rather than need.
“We may be approving projects not to keep the lights on,” she said, “but just to keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.”
Rural landowners have enough to be concerned about with wind farm development, Danky said, to be additionally burdened by transmission lines carrying power that may not be necessary.
“It’s a much more complicated issue than people are really discussing,” he said.