Road trip report on Blue Sky Green Field (Johnsburg) and Forward Energy Center (Brownsville) by Michael Vickerman

Posted on July 21, 2008. Filed under: Wind |

Last Tuesday (July 15) was a particularly good day to visit Wisconsin’s two newest windpower installations. A steady 20 mph wind from the south provided plenty of fuel for the 154 turbines installed at We Energies’ Blue Sky Green Field installation and Invenergy’s Forward Energy Center. I counted only three turbines off-line out of the many dozens we saw that afternoon. The rest were spinning purposefully among the bending and swaying trees. The fields were alive with the sound of tractors and a few birds, punctuated by an occasional truck grinding along on the back roads.

My colleague Ed Blume and I left Madison a little early so we could drive to the Blue Sky Green Field project and snap a few photos. Though it’s only five miles north of a major state highway (23), it’s tucked away behind some rolling terrain and rather difficult to spot from the roadway. You have to turn north and drive a mile or so before the turbines start coming into view. We took the rollercoaster-like Seven Hills Road toward the project’s southern boundary in the Town of Marshfield. I highly recommend that approach, because the turbines will appear then disappear then reappear as you proceed from hillcrest to hillcrest.

At one point we stopped near the 345 kV line which transports BSGF’s electricity towards southeast Wisconsin, and about 1,200 feet from two turbines. Getting out of the car, we immediately heard the telltale crackling hum of the transmission line. In contrast, so faint was the aerodynamic sound from the nearby turbines that we had to consciously filter out the ambient sounds in order to hear the barely audible whoosh. By the way, there is still a lot of turned-over earth in the area, almost all of it a result of the Guardian Pipeline project now under construction.

Twenty minutes later, we joined a tour of the Forward project organized by Jenny Heinzen of Lakeshore Technical College. An Electrical Apprentice Instructor there, Jenny also teaches one-week-long introductory classes in renewable energy. On hand to greet us at Forward’s substation was Laura Miner of Invenergy. Laura is one of seven or eight Invenergy employees who work out of the Brownsville office.

At the substation, which is located at the project’s northeast corner, we stood about 500 feet from the nearest operating turbine. At 500 feet you will hear gearbox-related sounds coming from inside the nacelle. You can also hear many other human-generated sounds in the mix, as well as birds and the wind itself passing through the trees. One of the objectors to the project has written several posts picked up by (, in which he likens the gearbox sound to a jet plane passing overhead. This has become an antiwind talking point. Living under the approach path to Dane County’s airport, I stop talking whenever a jet flies overhead. Here, notwithstanding our proximity to that turbine, the people in our group had no difficulty talking to each other at normal conversational volumes.

Our second stop took us to a turbine just west of the hamlet of South Byron, about two miles north of Brownsville. We stopped at an access road leading to a turbine that had just shut down. While most of the group walked to that turbine, I stayed behind for a minute to listen to another turbine that was about four tower-lengths away (1,100 feet). I could not hear any gearbox sound or any whooshing sound from that turbine. Nor could I hear anything emanating from the seven or eight turbines that I could see from my vantage point. It was the perfect spot to appreciate the fact that 99% of wind energy’s environmental impact is visual in nature.

According to Laura, there haven’t been many complaints from neighbors. Most of the callers have complained of poor TV reception. Invenergy hasn’t yet decided on a preferred mitigation measure for rectifying the reception problems. On this matter, I would advise Invenergy to implement whatever mitigation measure it deems appropriate by opening day of the 2008 NFL season.

Ms. Miner told the tour group that five or six households have complained about sound impacts. Considering the number of households within or abutting the 32,000 acre project zone, those are small numbers. Invenergy just completed a sound characterization study of its turbines, which will soon be available on-line at the Public Service Commission’s Web site.

The land reclamation/restoration effort had made considerable progress since March 12, the day Michels Wind Energy completed outdoor assembly work on the project. Waist-high stalks of corn lined the smoothly surfaced access road we walked on. With the fields planted in corn, it is nearly impossible to detect the access roads unless you happen to be directly in front of one. Laura mentioned that the restoration work on the county highways was almost finished.

Ms. Miner also disclosed some details of the post-construction wildlife study, which involves approximately one-third of the turbines. To ensure that no carcass goes undetected, Invenergy is required to clear the vegetation/crops from about an acre’s worth of land surrounding each turbine. This study will continue through the end of 2009.

On the way back to Madison, Ed and I turned off Highway 49 and pulled into a trailhead on the western side of Horicon Marsh, about a mile east of Highway 151. We did this to observe the visual impact of the wind turbines behind the marsh, and compare the real-life views against the computer-generated rendering of the Forward project that appears on the Horicon System Marsh Advocates’ Web site. If one needed additional proof of the deliberate deceit that underpins antiwind propaganda, take a good look at that second image on the web site and compare it against one of the photos we took that day.

In short, both Blue Sky Green Field and Forward are excellent visual complements to Wisconsin’s working landscape, and will prove to be worthy exemplars of Wisconsin’s investment in utility-scale wind energy. To those who haven’t visited either of these projects, what are you waiting for?


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