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The way the wind blows

By Paul Snyder

It’s hard to think of anybody being surprised by We Energies’ approval Monday to build the Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County.

With Wisconsin already having passed a new law to create statewide turbine placement standards and Gov. Jim Doyle last week heralding the arrival of a bill based on recommendations by his Task Force on Global Warming, the commitment to renewable energy likely isn’t a passing fad.

The problem with it is the high costs associated with the relatively low energy output. PSC Chairman Eric Callisto noted Monday that renewable energy, for the moment, is more expensive than fossil fuel. Depending on what kind of turbines We Energies opts to use at Glacier Hills, the project costs could run as high as $434 million for up to 209 megawatts of electric generation.

It’s a high price to pay, but state officials along with renewable proponents keep talking about technological advances that are bound to make wind, solar and biomass more efficient energy sources in the future. The million dollar question is when are those advances going to happen?

The state has timelines. A statute is already in place requiring the state and utilities have 10 percent renewable energy output by 2015. And if the global warming task force bill passes, state law will require 25 percent by 2025.

Can they get there? One person’s vision of the future seems as good as the next at this point. In 1989, the producers of “Back to the Future Part II” envisioned 2015 as a time with flying cars and a Chicago Cubs World Series ring. As a fan of both the Cubs and averting road congestion, I have to say their world is extremely appealing to me.

As a realist (read: Cubs fan), I also doubt we’ll see all that in just five years.

But more efficient turbines and solar panels by then? It’s certainly possible. Look at the technological advances in the last decade.

That might be the bigger point. If someday less or smaller turbines can generate more power, then isn’t the land being zoned now clearing the way for more future power? Opposition will always face the projects, but they may not be final products as much as steps in a better direction.

Just like getting rid of Milton Bradley was a step in the right direction for the Cubs. I mean, there’s always next year.

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