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Farmers embrace power of state's steadiest wind

Nov. 21, 2000 - DON BEHM - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

FPL Energy plan for wind towers draws leases
- Wind is a constant companion of farmers working in fields and pastures on the broad limestone escarpment east of Allenton.

Steady breezes rustled through rows of crops as combines completed the fall harvest earlier this month. Gusts lifted dust into machinery and blew leaves and corn husks across Daniel Breuer's driveway during a break in chores on a recent morning.

"It is always blowing up here," Breuer said, pointing to a rise northeast of his home and barn. A Florida utility has proposed erecting two wind turbines atop the slope so that it can capture, and sell, just some of that energy.

"There are many days a year where I can stop in Allenton and there is not even a breeze down there," he said. "But I drive back up onto this ridge and there is a good wind."

Wind picks up speed, and energy, as it pushes up the steep embankments east of U.S. Highway 41, making this one of the breeziest corridors in Wisconsin, state researchers have concluded.

Breuer's father bought the dairy farm on Aurora Road in the 1950s. Daniel was born here.

After a lifetime of wind brushing and slapping his face, he had considered buying his own modern windmill several years ago.

So, he wasn't surprised when representatives of FPL Energy of Juno Beach, Fla., came knocking at his door in 1998. If the utility's plan for a 28-turbine wind farm is approved by the Town of Addison, the Breuer farm would provide the two southernmost units in the plan.

He and his wife, Koreen, agreed to lease land to the utility for many of the same reasons that prompted some neighbors to do the same.

The slow-turning blades on the turbine towers will provide a clean source of renewable energy, the Breuers said.

Harold Seyfert would provide space for four turbines - the most of any of the landowners - at his farm on the highest crest of Hillcrest Drive. He was born on this farm, which has been in the family for more than a century.

"We're living on a ridge where the wind's always blowing so, I thought, why not use it?" Seyfert said.

Three turbines will tower over Norbert Beine's farm on Highway 33.

"It's a renewable resource," Beine said. "There's nothing to dispose of," he said in explaining his support for the project.

Dire consequences doubted

None of the landowners who leased property to FPL foresees negative consequences if the project is built. Leases were signed only after a long look at the concerns raised by opponents of the project, the families said in recent interviews.

These supporters questioned everything, from the project's potential for killing birds and creating too much noise to a loss of property values and the destruction of aesthetic views.

After dozens of meetings with FPL representatives, state researchers and other specialists, the leaseholders decided the 28-turbine wind farm would not harm their families, their neighbors or the environment.

They also have studied the concerns of opponents who fear the transmission of electrical energy collected from the wind farm will cause or exacerbate stray voltage problems on farms.

The Breuers and several of the other participating landowners are dairy farmers. They would not invite stray voltage into their own facilities, the group said.

"I'm milking cows here," Daniel Breuer said. "Stray voltage was one of our first concerns."

Voltage is the pressure that pushes electrical current through a wire. Rural distribution lines along country roads, transformers and a farm's electrical systems all are grounded into the earth for safety reasons and to comply with state code.

Consequently, some current flows into the earth at each ground and a fraction of a volt can be detected there. The current disperses through the ground. If a barn is close by, some of that current can flow up through the concrete floor.

Stray voltage is the small amount that is measured between the floor and a grounded device, such as metal water pipes or an electrically heated water basin in a barn or milking parlor.

Cows simultaneously contacting the basin and the floor could receive a mild electrical shock if that stray voltage reaches sufficient levels.

If so, corrections need to be made, according to representatives of Wisconsin Electric Power Co., the Milwaukee-based utility that serves the southeastern Wisconsin region.

Wisconsin Electric offers free checks for the out-of-place voltage and grants of up to $2,000 to help pay the cost of upgrading farm wiring, said Chuck DeNardo, a Wisconsin Electric principal engineer.

Voltage generally does not reach shocking levels unless there is an electrical problem, such as a short in equipment, defective underground cable, corroded connections or inadequate grounding, he said.

Brothers Warren and Marvin Rate are partners in a 160-acre dairy enterprise on Beaver Dam Road. They milk 60 cows out of a 150-head herd and must rent an extra 80 acres of cropland to keep the animals fed.

For more than a decade, the Rates have had problems with stray voltage all over the farm, particularly in the barn, Marvin Rate said.

The problems became worse after Beaver Dam Road was rebuilt in 1993. A few years ago, an independent specialist found excessive stray voltage coming from an underground line leading to a utility meter.

A Wisconsin Electric crew had simply spliced into the line when the pole and transformer were moved in 1993, rather than replacing it with a new line, Rate said. Wisconsin Electric provided a new elevated line earlier this year, and stray voltage was substantially reduced, Rate said.

Though they have not fully resolved their farm's electrical problems, the brothers embraced the wind farm project after an electrician and an independent specialist agreed that FPL had provided adequate safeguards in its project to prevent new problems.

At the outset of her family's deliberations, Denise Rate, Warren's wife, was hesitant about the size of the two towers that would be built south of their home.

Each wind turbine will sit atop a 235-foot tubular tower. At the peak of the tower, three blades, each 90 feet long, will turn with the wind.

She also was concerned about noise.But after visiting wind turbines in the Town of Byron in Fond du Lac County, Rate was convinced that she wouldn't notice the towers or hear them.

Fees for farmers

In exchange for harnessing some of the wind power blowing over their fields, FPL will pay the participating landowners an undisclosed annual fee.

Steve Dryden, a former FPL project manager, last year said the fee was about $10,000 per turbine per year, up from the initial offer of $2,500.

FPL also intends to provide the town with an annual payment in lieu of taxes if the project is permitted, said James Tynion, an attorney with Foley & Lardner, a Milwaukee law firm representing FPL.

Wind energy equipment is exempt from local property taxes, but FPL believes the town should be compensated for even the limited services the company will depend on, such as snowplowing and road maintenance, he said.

Dryden last year suggested the payments could amount to more than $1.7 million over 25 years. Tynion would not comment on a specific amount.

Payments to the families will offset low milk and grain prices and help preserve the tradition of farming, several of the participating landowners said.

Michael L. Ritger is the third generation of his family to operate the 110-acre farm on Wildlife Road.

Ritger sold his dairy herd four years ago. He continues to raise heifers, which are sold to other farmers, and to grow cash crops, such as corn and alfalfa. He also cultivates an additional 50 acres rented from another landowner.

"It's a matter of time, and this area is going to be developed with subdivisions," Ritger said.

He agreed to allow three wind turbines on his land. A wind farm won't create more costs for the community, unlike subdivisions with extra traffic and demand for services, Ritger said.

The cash he is paid will help bolster his determination to reject the offers of developers.

Ritger said, "I will be able to generate additional income for my family so I can keep this farm in agriculture."

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Nov. 22, 2000.


Updated: 2016/06/30

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