Dairyland Power officials celebrated the completion of a $167 million wind farm in southwest Wisconsin Friday that is expected to provide enough energy for more than 35,000 average households.
The La Crosse-based cooperative has a 20-year contract to purchase electricity generated by 49 turbines spread over rural Lafayette County.
The 98-megawatt Quilt Block project, constructed and operated by EDP Renewables, is the state’s fourth largest wind farm and should boost Wisconsin’s wind generation capacity by about 15 percent, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Dairyland CEO Barb Nick said the agreement fits with the cooperative’s resource diversification strategy and “is good, sound business practice.”
Wind farms require only a fraction of the staff required to operate a traditional power plant, and there are no fuel costs.
The cost of wind energy has declined dramatically as technological advances have enabled taller towers with longer blades that capture more wind, and federal tax credits have helped spur rapid growth in U.S. wind capacity, according to the EIA.
“The momentum seems to be building,” said Tyler Hueber, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a renewable energy advocacy group.
EDP Renewables, a Houston-based company that operates 41 wind farms and two solar gardens throughout North America, said the landowners hosting the turbines will receive about $23 million over the life of the project, while a state-mandated revenue sharing agreement will provide about $392,000 a year for local government in the county of 16,836 people.
As many as 250 people were involved in construction of the project, which will employ 10 full-time workers.
According to Quilt Block’s connection agreement with the Midwest grid operators, its success is dependent on two controversial high-voltage transmission lines proposed by Dairyland and other utilities: Badger Coulee, which is currently under construction between La Crosse and Madison; and Cardinal-Hickory Creek, a proposed line between Dubuque and Madison.
While opponents of those lines contend they discourage less costly energy efficiency and local renewable energy development, supporters say they are actually facilitating local projects like Quilt Block.
“That line is not only needed for wind farms in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, it’s also opening up market opportunities for Wisconsin projects,” said Chris Kunkle, regional policy manager for Wind on the Wires, a non-profit renewable energy advocacy organization.
“I’m very glad it’s here. It’s in our footprint,” Nick said. “I’m more happy about the economics.”
With $1.6 billion in generation assets, Dairyland serves more than 258,000 customers of member cooperatives and municipal utilities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.
In the past two years, the cooperative has added more than 200 megawatts of wind and solar generation capacity to its portfolio, which has traditionally been dominated by coal-fired power. Nick said the company intends to add another 100 to 150 megawatts of renewables in the near future “at the right time, right location and right price.”
Earlier this year Dairyland announced plans to build a $700 million natural gas generation plant in a partnership with Minnesota Power.
Nick said Dairyland intends to stick with its plans to reduce reliance on coal regardless of the Trump administration’s efforts to revive the flagging mining industry.
“We’re going to continue to pursue that regardless of what happens with legislation, regulation or global politics,” Nick said. “Because we think it’s just good economics, it’s sustainable, it’s what our members want.”