• WisBusiness

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tom Still: Winds of change shift again for Wisconsin's wind-power industry


By Tom Still
Sun Prairie's Wind Power Happy Hour is back on the social calendar.

Unless you're someone who follows the wonky ups and downs of the wind energy business in Wisconsin, the return of these periodic get-togethers at Sun Prairie's Cannery Grill will pass over you like… well, a cool spring breeze.

But if you're an advocate of wind power or working in the state's budding wind industry, next month's return of the happy hour next month symbolizes the end to a very unhappy year.

In March 2011, the Wisconsin Legislature voted to set aside rules that would have allowed continued development of most major wind farms. The rules were crafted by the state Public Service Commission late in Gov. Jim Doyle's tenure. After his 2010 election, Gov. Scott Walker asked if private property rights and public safety could be threatened once the statewide rules took effect.

Wind power critics say turbine towers – up to 40 stories high – are noisy and cause shadow flicker when built too close to homes. Shadow flicker is the repetitive effect produced when turbine blades sweep in front of the sun's rays. Groups such as the Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Wisconsin Towns Association agreed and recommended rejection of the PSC rules.

The Legislature was prepared to do precisely that until this month, when wind energy developers, alternative energy advocates and utilities urged lawmakers to reconsider. They argued the Doyle-era rules were strict enough to avoid clashes between landowners and wind farms. They also claimed Wisconsin was rapidly losing ground to other states in building wind projects – a fact that threatened home-grown manufacturers of wind components.

"Until we get the policies corrected in this state, we're going to see more wind-power jobs leave Wisconsin," said Jeff Anthony, director of business development for the American Wind Energy Association. "Getting the policies right is extremely important right now."

Anthony, who spoke at the March 9 Green Energy Summit in Milwaukee, said surrounding states have continued to build major wind farms. Under construction in the region, he said, are 614 megawatts of wind power in Illinois, 470 in Iowa, 348 in Michigan and 202 in Indiana. That compares to 5 megawatts under construction in Wisconsin.

The construction surge is due in part to a rush to finish wind projects before federal wind power tax credits expire in December, so 2013 won't be nearly as robust unless the credits are renewed. Anthony said Wisconsin has already lost several major projects, but it's not too late to salvage part of the 2012 construction season.

Production of wind turbine components is a manufacturing sector that almost left the United States a decade ago. Today, six in 10 turbine components are made in America – and Wisconsin is home to about 300 suppliers and manufacturers, according to the Wisconsin Wind Works consortium.

Ultimately, the Legislature's reversal reflected a classic policy showdown: Jobs for Wisconsin workers versus tougher protections for homeowners and farmers. In the end, jobs won.

That need not mean Wisconsin will become one giant wind farm, however. The state isn't highly ranked as a place with top-tier wind potential, and some of the best wind sites have already been taken. Smaller wind turbines – often built to serve individual businesses – are seen as more likely construction targets in Wisconsin.

It may also be cheaper, in the long run, to import wind power from states that have welcomed major projects. That's why there are plans to build transmission lines to the west, toward Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas and beyond.

The PSC rules set to take effect will bar wind turbines within 1,250 feet of neighboring residences. Wind advocates say that setback rule should offer ample protection. As part of implementing the rules, the PSC must conduct a survey by October 2014 of peer-reviewed scientific literature examining the health effects of wind energy systems.

For now, however, Wisconsin's wind power industry is back in business – and the organizers of the Wind Power Happy Hour are, once again, happy. And if the wind industry and the PSC follow the spirit of the new rules, people who may live near future wind projects will be happy, too.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

Labels:


Comments: 0

Post a Comment

Back to BizOpinion main page

: See newer blog items : : See older blog items :

BizOpinion site feed
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

wisbusiness.com Social News

Follow Us

Site Sponsors

ARCHIVE

· January 2009
· February 2009
· March 2009
· April 2009
· May 2009
· June 2009
· July 2009
· August 2009
· September 2009
· October 2009
· November 2009
· December 2009
· January 2010
· February 2010
· March 2010
· April 2010
· May 2010
· June 2010
· July 2010
· August 2010
· September 2010
· October 2010
· November 2010
· December 2010
· January 2011
· February 2011
· March 2011
· April 2011
· May 2011
· June 2011
· July 2011
· August 2011
· September 2011
· October 2011
· November 2011
· December 2011
· January 2012
· February 2012
· March 2012
· April 2012
· May 2012
· June 2012
· July 2012
· August 2012
· September 2012
· October 2012
· November 2012
· December 2012
· January 2013
· February 2013
· March 2013
· April 2013
· May 2013
· June 2013
· July 2013
· August 2013
· September 2013
· October 2013
· November 2013
· December 2013
· January 2014
· February 2014
· March 2014
· April 2014
· May 2014
· June 2014
· July 2014
· August 2014
· September 2014
· October 2014
· November 2014
· December 2014
· January 2015
· February 2015
· March 2015
· April 2015
· May 2015
· June 2015
· July 2015
· August 2015
· September 2015
· October 2015
· November 2015
· December 2015
· January 2016
· February 2016
· March 2016
· April 2016
· May 2016
· July 2016
· August 2016
· October 2016
· December 2016
Copyright ©2013 WisBusiness.com All rights reserved. | WisOpinion.com | WisPolitics.com  |  Website development by wisnet.com LLC  | Website design by Makin’ Hey Communications