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Dane County wind farm’s fate rests with WPPI

By Paul Snyder

A $20 million wind farm proposed for Springfield hinges on whether Sun Prairie-based WPPI Energy will buy electricity and eventually acquire the project.

Sun Prairie-based Wave Wind LLC needs an answer from the utility by Tuesday, or the turbines will be sent to Iowa or Minnesota, said Dionne Lummus, Wave Wind’s business development coordinator.

“The project will put a lot of money into the community and has no opposition at the local level,” she said. “To me, it seems like an easy business decision.”

But the wrinkle in Wave Wind’s plan is the 8.3 cents per kilowatt-hour it will require WPPI pay for electricity.

That rate will pay off Wave Wind’s investment in the turbines in 10 years, Lummus said, and then WPPI can take ownership of the 10-megawatt project.

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But the developer’s asking price already killed a similar proposed deal with Madison Gas & Electric Co. MG&E argued it could buy electricity at about 2.9 cents per kilowatt-hour and that it would not put an extra rate burden on its customers if it does not need the power.

Peter Taglia, staff scientist for Clean Wisconsin Inc., said he did not buy MG&E’s argument. He said 2.9 cents might be the current rate, but that is subject to change. He said Wave Wind is offering a fixed price that is not subject to market-driven changes.

He said if WPPI rejects the offer, it sends a bad message to small wind farm developers throughout the state.

“Projects like that have the ability to be smaller scale and produce a lot of energy,” he said. “It’s visible from the Capitol and can give people who live close to the source a more tangible relationship with energy. It would mean a lot for Dane County.”

WPPI spokeswoman Anne Rodriguez confirmed the company has discussed buying electricity from Wave Wind, but declined to comment on whether there will be a deal.

If there is no deal, Lummus said, Wave Wind will move the turbines to a project elsewhere in the country. The developer is working on projects in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, Texas and New Mexico. Lummus said the company must notify Hyundai Heavy Industries by Tuesday where the turbines will go. Wave Wind bought the turbines from Hyundai last year.

“We put the cart before the horse with this,” she said. “Usually, you get the purchase agreements before you have the turbines, but we got the turbines first and we got all the local approvals, so we tried to make it work.”

Dave Laufenberg, a Springfield supervisor, said necessary approvals are in place, but the town is not entirely supportive of the project.

“It’s probably a good thing for the environment,” he said. “But we still have questions. I don’t think it will bring much revenue to the town, and what happens in 20 years if there’s a better way to harness free energy and these things are obsolete?”

The state’s Wind Siting Council is crafting proposed rules for approval of wind projects that would generate less than 100 megawatts, such as Wave Wind’s. Lummus said Legislative action is needed to create a simpler approval process. She said if the Springfield project does not happen, neither will other small projects around Wisconsin.

“The wind regime here is terrible,” she said. “If we’re really expected to do these small projects for 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, nobody’s going to be able to make a project work. The future of small community wind will be dead.”

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