Dairyland Power is adding 80 megawatts of wind energy, a significant step toward reducing the La Crosse-based utility’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Dairyland announced a five-year agreement — effective Wednesday — to purchase half the power from a Kensett, Iowa, wind farm owned by Avangrid Renewables. That’s enough energy to power about 19,000 homes for a year.
Avangrid previously sold power from the wind farm, completed in 2009, to We Energies. For the past two years the Portland, Ore., company sold energy directly into the market.
Combined with a 98-megawatt Lafayette County wind farm expected to begin generating electricity later this year, that will more than triple Dairyland’s wind resources.
The company says it is working to “exceed expectations as a safe, sustainable, premier power cooperative” by diversifying its resources.
Also on Wednesday the sixth of 15 new solar gardens announced last year began generating electricity. All are expected to be online by mid summer, said Dairyland spokeswoman Katie Thomson.
With the addition of the 20 megawatts of solar capacity, Dairyland is poised to move renewables from about 8 percent of its portfolio to more than 20 percent in less than two years.
Dairyland supplies wholesale electricity to 43 member coops and municipal utilities serving about 258,000 customers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.
The company operates coal-fired plants in Genoa and Alma and owns a share of the Weston Power plant in Wausau. As of this year, coal accounts for nearly three quarters of Dairyland’s generation capacity. That will fall to less than 64 percent by the end of this year.
Tyler Huebner, executive director of the clean energy advocacy group Renew Wisconsin, said the prices of wind and solar electricity have become competitive with fossil fuels, making it easier for utilities to diversify their resources and become less reliant on coal.
Coal accounted for about 56 percent of Wisconsin’s power generation in 2015, down from more than 61 percent the previous year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Nationwide, coal accounted for about a third of all electricity generated in 2015.