By Michael Vickerman
September 30, 2010

On September 23, Alex DePillis and I hopped on board a tour bus filled with natural resource professionals and gave an overview of wind development in Wisconsin as we headed to the 54 MW Butler Ridge Wind Facility. The project is located in the Town of Herman in southeast Dodge County, a few miles west of State Highway 175. Most of the project’s 36 turbines are located south of State Highway 33.

The project was developed by Midwest Wind, which also developed the Cedar Ridge project owned by Alliant Energy. The project was sold to Babcock & Brown’s U.S. division, which then constructed the facility. The general contractor for that project was RES Americas. Butler Ridge was placed in commercial operation in March 2009. Right now, it is the newest utility-scale wind project in Wisconsin, but that distinction will only late this year, when Shirley Wind comes on-line.

In December 2009, NextEra Energy (formerly FPL Energy) bought Butler Ridge from Babcock and Brown. NextEra is also the owner of the Montfort project in Iowa County.

It turned out to be an excellent day to see wind generation in action. Thanks to a strengthening low pressure system to the west, there was a steady southerly air flow sweeping over southern Wisconsin that morning. Every flag we saw that morning was stiff as could be and pointing due north. Wind speeds at hub height ranged between 20 and 25 mph. The GE turbines were producing at about 75% of their rated capacity.

We stopped at Butler Ridge’s operations and maintenance center on Illinois Road. From the vantage point of the facility, we could see wind turbines in every direction. The closest turbine, at about 1,100 feet away, was audible but barely so.

All of the output from Butler Ridge is sold to WPPI Energy, which serves a number of municipal utilities in the area, including Hartford, Slinger, Hustisford, and Juneau.

Once at the O&M center, the group listened to Nate Crawford, Butler Ridge’s site manager for NextEra, and Julie Voeck, NextEra’s manager for regulatory affairs in the Midwest. Most of the questions from the group addressed environmental impacts. Nate explained that the some of the turbines were moved to the east to create a larger buffer zone between the project and the Neda Mine bat hibernaculum. We also talked about the new permitting rule, the flow of dollars into the local area, and the effects of turbines on radio and TV reception.

Nate said that there have been very few complaints from the neighbors, and they have been almost always about TV reception. NextEra is in the process of providing the affected households with satellite TV service that features Milwaukee stations.

Only one person has taken his complaints to the Herman Town Board. That person, Nate said, has been a vocal opponent of the project from the outset. The Town Board did not find any merit in that individual’s complaint. Nate characterized the local reaction as being very positive, and the Town Board seems very supportive of the installation.

The turbines generate $216,000 annually in utility local aids. Dodge County receives about $125,000 a year, with the remainder going to the Town of Herman.

Though compensating neighbors is not a standard feature of projects developed by NextEra Energy, neighbors of the Butler Ridge turbines do receive compensation. This is a hallmark of Midwest Wind Energy’s developments in Wisconsin.

The Q&A lasted through the allotted 25 minutes. Alex and I stayed a while after the tour bus left to look at the SCADA system and continue our conversation with Nate and Julie. The availability factor at Butler Ridge is very high, with numbers hovering around 99%. I asked Nate if he could recall a time when Butler Ridge was curtailed due to transmission congestion. He could not. But it has become a serious problem at several NextEra Energy projects in Iowa. Julie and I had been at a Wind on the Wires meeting earlier that week, where it was revealed that curtailments in the MISO region are expected to shave 5% off this year’s output from wind generation. There were several at the meeting, including Julie, who believe that the MISO estimate is too low.

All in all, the conservationists seemed to enjoy their visit to Butler Ridge. For me, it was my first visit to this project, and I came away thinking that this is an attractive and well-run facility. It is only an hour’s drive from Madison, and less so from Milwaukee. We are grateful to NextEra Energy for opening up their installation to us.