Farmers embrace power of state's
Nov. 21, 2000 - DON BEHM - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
FPL Energy plan for wind towers draws leases
Addison - 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
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
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
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
"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 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
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
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
"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.