by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
November 10, 2010
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending a celebration of Shirley Wind, Wisconsin’s newest commercial wind installation. Located in the Brown County township of Glenmore, a mere 15 miles southeast of Lambeau Field, the project consists of eight Nordex N100 turbines rated at 2.5 megawatts (MW) apiece. All eight turbines are fully erected and will be turned on individually as part of the commissioning process. Commercial operation should begin in a few weeks.
There are many features of this project that stand out. The most obvious one is the turbines themselves, which are the tallest in Wisconsin and are among the tallest in North America. The nacelle is perched on a 100-meter tower (330 feet). Attached to the rotor are three blades extending 50 meters (165 feet). For comparison purposes, the tower is more than 60 feet taller than the next largest turbine in Wisconsin, the Vestas V82, and the blades are about 30 feet longer. According to Michels Wind, the general contractor for Shirley Wind, the spread foundations supporting these turbines are the largest in North America.
Between their height and blade length, Shirley Wind’s eight turbines will be the most productive wind generators in the state. The power conversion zone of a Nordex N100 is one-third larger than those of the Vestas and GE turbines located in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties. The turbine’s productivity is enhanced by the favorable wind resource that flows over the relatively flat terrain in southeast Brown County. All told, Shirley Wind’s turbines should produce about 64 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, which will exceed the annual output from the 20 turbines at the 30 MW Montfort installation in Iowa County, now in its 10th year of operation.
Another praiseworthy feature of Shirley Wind is the degree of local participation in the manufacturing and construction of the project. The towers were fabricated in Manitowoc by Tower Tech Systems. Manitowoc Crane supplied the giant crane that assembled the turbines. Brownsville-based Michels Wind Energy, which was also the general contractor for the 86-turbine Forward Energy Center surrounding its headquarters, organized and oversaw all facets of project construction. Numerous Wisconsin-based subcontractors, consulting engineers and natural resource professionals also made significant contributions to Shirley Wind. And Emerging Energies, the enterprising developer that started prospecting in this area in 2004 and drove the project forward across the finish line six years, is a Wisconsin corporation whose principals have deep roots in the Badger State.
It is no accident that the Shirley Wind project sets a new standard for Wisconsin content and participation. From its inception, Emerging Energies sought to maximize the benefits of windpower development to two important constituencies: Wisconsin businesses and the local community. As it turned out, its decision to partner with Tower Tech was a money-saving proposition, due to the very short distances needed to haul 80-ton tower sections from Manitowoc to the project site 25 miles away.
To build support among local officials, Emerging Energies agreed to set aside a portion of their receipts for compensating local governments and project neighbors, even though such payments are not required on power plants under 50 MW. The developer devised an innovative arrangement that allocates one-third of this revenue pool to the Town of Glenmore, one-third to Brown County, and one-third to project neighbors living within a certain distance of a wind turbine. This commitment to equitable distribution of revenues was no doubt instrumental in helping Emerging Energies secure a conditional use permit from the township in March 2007. This was no mean feat for a seasoned wind developer, let alone a relative newcomer to the industry.
With permit in hand, Emerging Energies set out to find an entity with an appetite for renewable energy. Initially, the developer approached Wisconsin utilities, which are required under 2005 Act 141 to increase the renewable energy content of the electricity they sell. However, by the time Emerging Energies started knocking on their doors, the utilities were already moving forward with their own acquisition plans, which emphasized owning and operating renewable generation sources over purchasing renewable electricity from third parties.
However, the same state law created another entity that needed to acquire renewable energy, namely, the State of Wisconsin. Under Act 141, which was signed into law in March of 2006, the State is obligated to source, by 2011, 20% of the electricity it consumes, or 184 million kilowatt-hours per year, from renewable resources. For state government officials, the purchasing requirement presented an opportunity to back an in-state wind project that could showcase Wisconsin’s prowess in manufacturing and construction as well as bolster the local economy. As a modest-sized project that had assembled a highly capable project development team, Shirley Wind shaped up to be an ideal fit for the State’s aspirations.
Because only utilities can legally sell electricity at retail, the State of Wisconsin and Emerging Energies needed to engage Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, the local utility, in a purchasing agreement that could allow the project to move forward. This was accomplished under a novel arrangement that allows Wisconsin Public Service to purchase both electricity and renewable energy credits from Shirley Wind under a 20-year contract and resell the credits to the State of Wisconsin.
With this three-way arrangement in place, Emerging Energies then sold a 90% stake in Shirley Wind in late 2009 to an outside investor, Central Hudson Enterprise Corporation, a Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based company. The other 10% of the project remains with Emerging Energies. Having consummated that investment, Shirley Wind cleared the last remaining preconstruction hurdle. Project construction commenced in April.
When fully operational, Shirley Wind will produce enough electricity to equal the annual consumption of approximately 8,000 households without discharging so much as an ounce of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. At the same time, the project as well as generate thousands of dollars each year in supplemental income to host landowners and their neighbors. At every step of this six-year endeavor, Emerging Energies pursued its vision of locally beneficial renewable energy development in a patient and transparent manner, which eventually bore fruit when the State of Wisconsin decided to apply the power of the public purse to seal the deal for Shirley Wind. Shirley Wind represents an auspicious debut for Emerging Energies. Hopefully, there will be more projects coming through that particular pipeline.
Michael Vickerman is executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a sustainable energy advocacy organization. RENEW Wisconsin hosts and updates the on-line Wisconsin Wind Information Center (http://www.wiwindinfo.net) and facilitates the Wisconsin Wind Working Group. These commentaries also posted on RENEW’s blog: http://renewwisconsinblog.org.