Wind Farm Delay | More Solar | “Focus” Funding | New Transmission Plan


Wind farm start date delayed

Developers of the proposed Highland Wind Farm in St. Croix County have postponed to 2020 their target date for beginning construction.

Texas-based Leeward Renewable Energy’s first quarterly progress report for 2018 cited 2020 as the targeted start date. Last year’s final quarterly report, filed in January with the Public Service Commission (PSC), gave a target date of 2019.

In 2013, reversing its prior denial of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the project, the PSC added a requirement for quarterly progress reports from the developers. Leeward acquired the project 18 months ago from Emerging Energies of Wisconsin, which initially proposed the facility in 2011.

In addition to the time required for generation interconnect studies and securing a power purchase agreement for the facility’s output of a little more than 100 megawatts, the latest report lists “petitions and motions currently before the Circuit Court of St. Croix County” and any subsequent appeals as factors in the delay.

Dairyland adding more solar

Three new utility-scale projects will be added to Dairyland Power Cooperative’s solar build-out, bringing its total number of solar facilities under contract to 18, the La Crosse-based generation and transmission co-op has announced.

The three facilities, each with a nameplate capacity of 1.5 megawatts, will be installed, owned, and operated by SoCore Energy of Chicago (two facilities), and EDF Renewables of Vermont. They’re to be sited at Thomson, Illinois; Decorah, Iowa; and Albert Lea, Minnesota. The 15 facilities already in service are all located in the service areas of Wisconsin co-ops that are Dairyland member-owners.

Once operational, the new sites will raise Dairyland’s solar capacity to 25 megawatts from the current 20.5. Construction is to begin later this year.

“Focus” funding maintains status quo

Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission voted 3–0 last month to keep the Focus on Energy program’s emphasis on containing total statewide energy consumption rather than shift it to reducing peak demand, a change sought by some advocacy groups.

State law requires the regulatory panel to review the program at least every four years, and it may order changes in priorities aimed at serving the goal of moderating growth of electricity and natural gas demand and ensuring efficiency.

The commission (PSC) maintained existing Focus funding levels for renewable energy—such as solar, biofuel, small wind, and geothermal projects—keeping the designated expenditures at $5.5 million annually, or $22 million over the next four years. That amount will probably represent a little less than one-fourth of the program’s total spending, the bulk of which goes to subsidize consumers retiring old equipment and appliances for more energy-efficient replacements.

Program-wide Focus on Energy funding is set by state law, which requires regulated utilities to contribute an amount equivalent to 1.2 percent of annual operating revenues derived from sales. That formula has been generating approximately $90 million annually for the program, a figure that’s not expected to change substantially in the near future.

Participating cooperatives and municipal utilities follow a separate funding formula that requires collection of consumer fees averaging eight dollars per meter per year.

New transmission plan filed for PSC approval

With design work underway since 2011, a formal application for authority to build a new transmission line across southwest Wisconsin was filed with the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) this spring.

The proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek extra-high-voltage line would link Dubuque County, Iowa, and Dane County, Wisconsin. The three applicants for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity are Waukesha-based American Transmission Company, Dairyland Power Cooperative of La Crosse, and ITC Midwest, an independent transmission company with lines in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri.

Their preferred route (Wisconsin law requires applicants to specify two alternatives) crosses the Mississippi River at Cassville, proceeds northeast to the City of Lancaster and the Village of Montfort, where a new substation would be built, then follows Highways 18 and 151 to the Village of Mount Horeb, where it veers northeast to the Village of Cross Plains and then east to the Cardinal substation at Middleton. That route would cover 87 miles, compared with an alternative that would stretch 102 miles, the applicants said.

Capital cost of the preferred route is an estimated $492 million compared with $543 million for the alternative, according to the applicants, who said Wisconsin consumers can expect economic benefits of as much as $350 million over and above those costs during the project’s anticipated 40-year life. Completion is expected in 2023.
Wind energy is a major motivator for the project, the application documents confirm, saying the new line would add about 1,300 megawatts of transfer capacity between Iowa and Wisconsin, “easing congestion, increasing competition and allowing the transfer of additional low-cost wind energy into the state.”