United States

United States

Wisconsin utility turnaround -- Lobby pressure results in 200 MW

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A Wisconsin utility will make significant gains this month on a self-imposed renewables portfolio standard (RPS) of 5% renewables by 2011 when it announces the winners of a solicitation for 200 MW of wind power. The RPS is due to a settlement last year that resulted in a collaborative process between We Energies and the same Wisconsin environmental groups that today are applauding the utility for proceeding with the huge purchase.

As well as the RPS, We Energies is pledging to spend at least $60 million over the next ten years on renewable energy and customer education and to create a new Renewable Energy Collaborative. In exchange, RENEW Wisconsin and the Customers First! Coalition, among others, are promising not to oppose the utility's expansion plan to build about 2500 MW of new gas and coal generation. That plan includes retiring several older coal plants and upgrading the utility's distribution system.

Banking on tax credit

We Energies, which released the 200 MW solicitation in December, says it will be buying this amount of wind power by the end of 2004, taking the utility to within 60% of its RPS goal. Michael Vickerman of RENEW Wisconsin says the renewables plan, developed by the Collaborative and We Energies, assumes the US Congress will extend the federal production tax credit three years beyond its current expiration of December 31, 2003. "This solicitation fits that expectation and We Energies has timed this well," he says.

RENEW Wisconsin believes the initiative could provide a serious boost for wind. "If all of the electricity We Energies purchases through this solicitation were generated from in-state sources, the amount of installed wind power capacity in Wisconsin would rise to about 253 MW, an increase of about 400% over the 53 MW currently operating," it says.

Although We Energies will not discuss the bids it received, Vickerman predicts the outcome could include one large project in the 50 MW to 100 MW range, along with several smaller -- about 30 MW -- projects.

FPL Energy ended a two-year drive last year to build a 25 MW wind project near Addison, Wisconsin, when it failed to convince local residents of the project's safety and economic benefits. Recognising the difficulties of siting wind farms near Wisconsin communities, We Energies required bidders to lay out a plan describing how they will gain community backing for their projects.

We Energies has more than one million retail customers in south east and north Wisconsin, including Milwaukee, the state's largest city, as well as parts of Michigan's upper peninsula. It is a subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy Corp, with about 6000 MW of generation.

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