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Environmental pact gives results -- Massive build-up in Wisconsin

Wisconsin, a state that has not had a new major generating project in 20 years, is in the middle of a huge build-up of its power infrastructure -- and in the process renewable energy is getting its due from the state's largest utilities. In a trade-off with environmental groups, Wisconsin utilities have agreed to significantly increase the volume of renewables in their supply portfolios. The build-up will increase installed wind capacity in Wisconsin almost nine times, from the current 53 MW to nearly 440 MW, all by the end of 2005 as long as wind's federal production tax credit (PTC) is back in place.

"With no new generating plants in 20 years, there is a tremendous interest in power and there are a number of coal and natural gas plants planned because the need is so great," says Ed Blume of RENEW Wisconsin. At the same time, Blume adds, the utilities were persuaded to set their own minimum standard for renewable energy as a demonstration of their commitment to environment protection. He points out that with the PTC, wind generation in Wisconsin is competitive with coal and natural gas.

RENEW Wisconsin is one of the environmental groups that last year agreed not to oppose about 2500 MW in fossil fuel power plant construction proposed by We Energies in exchange for a commitment to include renewable generation in the utility's power scheme (Windpower Monthly, May 2003). That plan has resulted in a renewables expansion in the state that is spreading to other utilities.

"There is a need in the state for more generation and we ensured that wind would be brought along with it," Blume says. That agreement, he says, was the result of the pressure on utilities, government, the legislature, the Public Service Commission (PSC) and consumers by groups like RENEW Wisconsin and the Customers First! Coalition.

growing needs

Also influential in changes to state policy was a report released in April by the PSC showing that the state's power needs will grow by 2.5%, or 375 MW, a year through 2010, and that that growth will increase electricity bills by 12%, largely due to the volatility of gas supply and price. The "Strategic Energy Assessment" recommends an increase in the state's renewables mandate from the current 2.2% of electricity by 2011 to 10% by 2008, which was also a recommendation of Governor Jim Doyle's Task Force on Energy Efficiency and Renewables (Windpower Monthly, May 2004).

The build-up of projects and the participation by the state's utilities is impressive. Wisconsin-based We Energies announced last year its intention to buy the output of three wind projects totalling 214 MW. Two of those (each 80 MW) went to Minnesota's Navitas Energy and the third to Illinois-based Midwest Wind Energy LLC (54 MW). With signed power purchase agreements, these projects were on schedule to be built in 2004, but the delay to reinstatement of the PTC by Congress will likely push completion into 2005.

Furthermore, earlier this year Alliant Energy released a solicitation for 100 MW of wind energy, all to be located in Wisconsin. It is due to announce the results of that solicitation, but the lack of a PTC has stalled that process too. Lastly, Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, which today buys 10 MW of wind energy, announced in July that it will increase its wind supply by 70 MW. It signed a power purchase agreement with Invenergy Wind LLC of Chicago for the Forward Energy Wind Project and expects the project to go online in 2005.

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