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Community versus corporate wind

Amidst a debate over a proposed wind farm in Wisconsin, the author poses a question: Does Wisconsin want community or corporate wind development? Most Wisconsinites would probably favour community wind, yet two recently signed state laws favour corporate wind over community wind. It appears that both these bills are badly flawed, anti-small business and badly hurt Wisconsin's emerging green independent power producers.

As the debate over a proposed wind farm in Washington County heats up, I offer a viewpoint overlooked thus far in the statewide debate. Does Wisconsin want community or corporate wind development?

Community wind is locally owned, produced and consumed wind generated energy scattered widely across a county or state in "micro-clusters" of one to three turbines per site. Corporate wind is investor owned and consists of dozens (or hundreds) of wind turbines concentrated over a small area (a "wind farm") with the energy usually transmitted out of the area or state.

If given a choice, I'd assume most Wisconsinites would favour community wind. Yet, two recently signed state laws favour corporate wind over community wind. In 1998, Governor Thompson signed a so-called "Electric Reliability Act" (Act 204). This year a so-called "Public Benefits" bill passed, which further hinders Wisconsin's small business' efforts to gain a foothold and grow with Wisconsin's emerging wind generating market.

Act 204 mandates that 50 MW (about 25,000 homes) of new renewable energy be constructed in Wisconsin by December 2000. This mandate favours corporate wind because only a large scale wind farm can meet the arbitrary deadline. Smaller scale community wind needs time to build a business plan, locate sites, negotiate contracts and erect towers. Thus Act 204 punishes Wisconsin's emerging green independent power producers (IPPs).

Likewise, the recently enacted so-called "Public Benefits" bill also favours corporate wind. This bill mandates that Wisconsin gets about 2% of its energy demand from renewable sources by 2010, but does not require the supply be generated in Wisconsin. Corporate wind from Iowa or Minnesota can meet that requirement. Once again, corporate wind wins and community wind loses.

It appears that both these bills are badly flawed, anti-small business and badly hurt Wisconsin's emerging green IPPs.

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