Wisconsin regulators OK local wind farm

Published 9:55 am Friday, July 10, 2009

Wisconsin state regulators have given Wisconsin Power & Light Co. permission to build Bent Tree Wind Farm.

“We’re very, very pleased that earlier today the Wisconsin Public Service Commission gave its verbal approval on a three to zero vote to proceed with the development and construction activities at the Bent Tree Windfarm in Freeborn County,” said David Engels, manager of wind project development for WP&L.

WP&L plans to build the Bent Tree Wind Farm on 32,500 acres just north of Albert Lea in Freeborn County. The first phase of the farm calls for about 120 turbines that would generate about 200 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to power 50,000 homes.

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The Wisconsin Public Service Commission voted 3-0 Thursday to approve the project. The panel has jurisdiction because the rate increases would affect Wisconsin consumers.

WP&L still needs approval from Minnesota regulators.

“What I think is important to know is that’s one of many, many approvals that’s required. It’s certainly a significant and important approval, but it’s one of many approvals that’s required for the development site,” Engels said.

The next of the two approvals are already submitted to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The two applications are on file with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission: a certificate of need and a site application, and he said he’s anticipating a ruling sometime this summer.

“The applications that we have on file in Minnesota are more from the perspective of the actual site,” Engels said.

The Wisconsin ruling is focused on whether the investment in Bent Tree is a good investment for the WP&L rate payers in Wisconsin, Engels said.

“The primary result of today’s ruling by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission is about the cost recovery on the investment. It authorizes us to move forward on the construction from a financial standpoint,” Engels said.

The project is expected to cost nearly $500 million. WP&L plans to recover some of the cost through $91.7 million in electric and natural-gas rate increases next year.

Once they have regulatory approval in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the construction process can begin. At the same time, Engels said there is work being done on Bent Tree.

“There’s a lot of other leg work going on: preliminary engineering, civil engineering, design,” Engels said. “We’re doing a lot of other legwork to prepare for the construction.”

At the same time, Katie Troe and the Freeborn County group Safe Wind held a recent hearing with Judge Steve M. Mihalchick where they voiced concerns over the noise produced by the turbines and the medical effects this has on individuals living near the turbines.

In her testimony at the hearing, Troe outlined conditions like turbine setbacks of 1,500 feet from homes. But Troe said one of Safe Wind’s main goals is for a third party to study the effects of wind turbines on people living nearby. That third party could then assist with the placement of turbines.

Look to coming issues of the Tribune for more on Bent Tree and Safe Wind.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report