Today, I entered into Minnesota where the renewable energy landscape is very different than in Wisconsin. For example, where Wisconsin gets about 2.6% of its in-state electrical production from wind energy, Minnesota gets about 18%! What explains this great discrepancy between wind energy in two neighboring states? Well, I’ll explore that question in the days ahead.
For now, as I have temporarily left the Badger State, I wanted to post a few perspectives on Wisconsin’s electrical sources and rates. First, Wisconsin gets the vast majority of it’s electrical energy from coal, as the below graphic conveys:
Second, Wisconsin has regions with good wind resources, as shown in the below resource map, so we could greatly improve on this 2.6% contribution:
However, these regions of good wind resources are underutilized. Lots of people argue that wind energy is expensive and pushes up electrical rates. Well then, Minnesota (18% wind) and Iowa (26% wind) must have the highest electrical rates in the Midwest, correct? Not true at all, as the below graphic indicates. Wisconsin (with the highest percentage of coal use) has the highest residential electrical rates in the upper Midwest!
So what gives? In short, Wisconsin underinvested in its electrical infrastructure in the 90’s and early 2000’s and had to catch up, per se, with massive capital investments in new fossil-based power plant infrastructure and pollution controls. The same may now be said of wind and renewable energy in general — Wisconsin is behind and will have to catch up some day, especially when national legislative/regulatory actions such as the Clean Power Plan and Paris Accord come to fruition. While Wisconsin is playing catchup, Minnesota is well on its way to a clean, renewable energy reality, which I’ll report on in the days ahead.
Yesterday, as I was biking towards the proposed (and permitted) Highland Wind Farm in St. Croix County, I started thinking in depth about what acceptable and common uses of rural parts of Wisconsin are and why. This was triggered by my first-hand view of current land uses of rural areas ranging between Chippewa County and St. Croix County. I observed (1) 80-ton semis transporting corn from large-scale grain bins to an ethanol plant; (2) 80-ton semis transporting mined sand to a frac sand processing plant just outside of Chippewa Falls; (3) hundreds if not thousands of rural residences; (4) recreational trails, public hunting grounds, and county/state forests; and (5) of course, field after field of corn, soybean, oat, wheat, and alfalfa (and the related dairy herds and farms). Regardless of the use, each of these activities has some impact to the physical environment and each use has some form of economic or societal benefit. For example, the frac sand mines and processing plants add hundreds, maybe thousands, of jobs to the regional economy while at the same time having its detractors and impacts to the rural landscape. For example, heavy semi traffic on County B in Chippewa County has exponentially increased. I am not trying to be judgmental here, I am just posing the question — what are acceptable uses of our rural regions in Wisconsin and should wind energy be one of those beneficial land use outcomes?
Rural residence in Wisconsin on a 1-acre plot
Frac sand transport truck on County B in Chippewa County
Ethanol plant in Wisconsin
Grain storage and trans-load facility in Wisconsin
I now have visited most wind farms in Wisconsin, with the exception of Montfort and Quilt Block (under construction) in the southwest corner of the state, for which I’ll visit upon my return to Wisconsin in 8-10 days (see map below). The Day 6 87.5-mile route took me from rural Cadott to St. Croix County’s Highlands. If I have learned anything on this trip thus far, in Wisconsin, wind farms are located on ridges, which means something very different when you are on a bike! I had originally hoped to bike another 12.5 miles to the St. Croix River on Day 6, but a slight but steady head wind and a relentless uphill route with lots of hills sapped me of my energy. Only one wind turbine observed today, at a residence in St. Croix County (see photo). Of interest, this small, residential-scale turbine was the loudest turbine that I have biked by on this entire trip!
The hills and ridges of St. Croix County
Typical biking route in St. Croix County
Residential-scale wind turbine in St. Croix County
For Day 7, I’ll be heading across the St. Croix River and into/through the heart of Minneapolis. Minnesota is much more advanced in policy and wind energy capacity than Wisconsin, so it will be interesting what I come across in these next 3-4 days of the trip. Stay tuned.
PS: President Donald Trump claims that your body only has a finite amount of energy in it, thus he does not exercise (except for golfing with a cart). I can definitely say that my legs only have a finite number of hills in them on any given day. However, one day’s effort makes you stronger for the days and years to come!
Today, I am heading out towards the proposed Highland Wind Farm near New Richmond. The Highland Wind project has been issued a CPCN (Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity) by the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin, and Leeward Renewable Energy Development of Dallas, Texas, is advancing the project and looking forward to completing development. Leeward hopes to complete the construction of the project sometime in 2019 after reaching an agreement with a retail provider to purchase the energy and environmental attributes from the project.
If all goes well on the bike today, this may be my highest mileage day yet! In my visit to the area today, I hope to get a feeling for the local flavor and setting of the region prior to any potential wind development.
On a separate note, I am attaching below a copy of some of the key benefits and limitations of wind energy. Over the course of the next 10 days, I hope to talk in more detail on many of these headwinds and tailwinds – in as balanced of a manner as I can.
On my way from Wausau to Cadott (WI) today for a total distance of 86.5 miles. Not much in the way of wind turbine sites today, but I did pass a transport company located SW of Wausau in which several wind turbine blades and tower sections were stored awaiting shipment to some new wind farm somewhere in the US. Then, onward for interviews with my hometown newspaper, the Stanley Republican, the Cadott Courier-Sentinel, and WEAU out of Eau Claire. Many of the questions in these interviews center around the benefits and limitations of wind energy. As such, starting tomorrow morning, I am going to start using this blog space to discuss specific topics in wind energy from a balanced, science-supported perspective, such as (1) is wind energy economically competitive with other forms of energy, (2) how ‘clean’ is wind energy compared to other energy sources such as coal and natural gas, (3) how much energy is produced by a typical wind turbine, (4) are there problems integrating an intermittent source of energy such as wind into the electrical grid, (5) are there health issues associated with living adjacent to wind energy sites, (6) what are the domestic workforce and manufacturing benefits for designing, constructing, and operating a wind energy site, and (7) what are the impacts to wildlife that live near wind energy sites? I hope that these upcoming blog posts help to advance the understanding of wind energy — the benefits and the limitations!
Wind turbine blades stored at a transport center SW of Wausau
Jim in his home town of Stanley, WI
Jim’s niece (April), great niece (Haley), great nephew (Ryan) and niece (Krista)
…and was interviewed by WEAU, the local Eau Claire TV station
Pretty quiet on the turbine scene today, with no turbines on the route between Shawano and Wausau. However, the natural beauty of the Mountain Bay Trail was incredible. Although the packed limestone surface slowed down my pace significantly, there are benefits of not having traffic to deal with and one route for much of the day. Then, in Wausau, I finally came across two ‘community-scale’ turbines at Wausau East High School. These turbines (one Northwind 100-kW and one 10-kW), I am sure, are being used to teach high school students the principles of science, data, economics, and renewable energy. I believe that we will see more and more of this type of ‘distributed wind’ into the future, where school districts, companies, cities, and other private entities install turbines ‘behind the wire’ to take full advantage of the actual cost to operate and bypassing utilities to a certain degree. For other larger-scale sites in Wisconsin that are operating their own wind turbines, think Epic Systems with Galactic Wind, SC Johnson Waxdale Facility in Racine, and the collaboration between Gunderson Lutheran and Organic Valley and their Cashton Greens Wind Farm.
Typical Scenery on the Mountain Bay Trail
Covered Bridge on the Mountain Bay Trail
Elevated Platform over Swamp on the Mountain Bay Trail
Jim Reunited (for one evening) with Ceylan, who is Staying in Wausau with Niece Jo-Ellen
Northwind 100-kW and Bergey Excel 10 kW Turbines at Wausau East
Jim in front of Northwind 100-kW Showing Scale, even for a Smaller ‘Community-Scale’ Turbine
PS: As an added benefit, got to be reunited with my beautiful lab (Ceylan) who is staying with my niece, Jo-Ellen, in Wausau for part of my #BikeTheWind trip. Staying at brother Don’s house tonight in Green Bay, who grilled some excellent chicken and potatoes that really hit the spot. Tomorrow, heading to Cadott to stay with Sister Cindy and family. Interviews with my hometown paper, the Stanley Republican, and in Cadott tomorrow.
Just one wind farm on the 92-mile route from Chilton to Shawano — Shirley Wind Farm, which is about 25 miles southeast of Green Bay and consists of eight Nordex N100 turbines rated at 2.5 megawatts (MW) apiece. These turbines are the largest in Wisconsin (capacity and height). The towers are 100 m high (about 330 feet) and the blades are each 50 m long (about 165 feet). Apparently, not everyone in the vicinity of the wind farm is appreciative of the presence of these turbines as evidenced by signs and past complaints and forced State studies regarding ‘low-frequency noise’. At this point, I am not going to get into the perceived (aka, alternative facts) tossed around about wind turbine impacts on health — I’ll save that discussion for another day. The point is, there is a lot of misinformation about wind turbines out there, which is part of the reason that I am writing my book on “Wind Energy Balance-of-Plant Design and Construction” beginning this fall.
Shirley Wind Farm
Alfalfa Mower Provides Scale
Shirley Wind Farm with 100-m-tall Tower
Fox River Trail near De Pere is Awesome Bike Path
Shirley has Opposition
Notice the Similarity in Colors Used in the Three Signs?
Not Everyone is a Happy Camper around Shirley Wind Farm
Mark and Doreen Sharing Hospitality and Guide Service through Green Bay
On a much lighter note, I came across the path of Mark and Doreen today on the Fox River Trail — what a wonderful couple! They invited me to their house in downtown Green Bay for refreshments, we discussed wind energy, and then Mark escorted me on his Trek road bike through the streets of Green Bay to the Mountain Bay Trail. I can’t say how appreciative I am not only for their graciousness but how kind and attentive people that I have met on this #BikeThe Wind tour have been — makes me proud to be a born and raised Wisconsinite! I also had a wonderful lunch at the Titletown Brewing Company courtesy of Rob Benninghoff, who is working with Leeward Renewable Energy Development to continue the development of the Highland Wind Project near Saint Croix. As this blog is already a tad bit long, I’ll talk about Rob and the Highland Wind Project in greater detail in a couple of days when I bike through that area.
PS: 92 miles of biking feels one heck of a lot better when you don’t have to fight a headwind all day. Today was beautiful biking weather with low winds, sunny skies, and moderate temperatures in the 70’s. One can only hope to have more of these types of days for the remainder of the trip.