FOX 11 Investigates: WPS ends operations at Kewaunee County wind farm

The 14 wind turbines at the Lincoln Wind Energy facility in Kewaunee County were removed in October. (WLUK image)

LINCOLN (WLUK) -- The winds of change are blowing across Kewaunee County.

Back in 1999, this farm field in the town of Lincoln, made its mark in the field of renewable energy.

"These were the first winds farms east of the Mississippi River so we really broke ground here," said Mick Sagrillo who has lived in Lincoln for 40 years.

He spent his career as a consultant in the field of small wind projects, like he has on his property.

What came to Lincoln just a few miles away was the same idea on a much larger scale:

Fourteen wind turbines, each one 200-feet tall. The wind farm could generate enough electricity to power 3,600 homes. That's about 10 times as many homes as there are in the entire town.

"They just ran and after a while I think they were just in the background. They were just there," Sagrillo said.

Until, they weren't there.

"Stunned," Sagrillo said. "I was just absolutely blown away."

In October, 20 years after being installed, crews took down the 14 wind turbines.

"Really those turbines are no longer cost-effective to maintain and operate," said Matt Cullen, the spokesman for Wisconsin Public Service, the company that owns the Lincoln Wind Energy Facility.

Cullen says wind turbines have a life span of 20 to 30 years. While each of the turbines at Lincoln could generate enough electricity to power about 257 homes, Cullen says newer turbines can generate more than 10 times that amount, approximately 1,300 homes.

When asked if the technology has passed the Lincoln turbines by, Cullen replied, "Yes, I would say so."

"I was just sort of surprised by the business decision to do that," Sagrillo said.

He was not the only one caught off guard by the move.

"We're right around 20 years on the 30-year permit. So, it's kind of surprising that they would decommission them now," said Lincoln town chairman Cory Cochart.

Lonnie Fenendael and his family had five of the WPS turbines on their property.

"It really did come as a surprise because I didn't think that they would be discontinued like they are. It just kind of caught us off-guard a little bit I guess," said Fenendael.

Earlier this year, Fenendael says he received a letter from WPS saying the turbines would be coming down.

"They took them down, one by one. Dismantled them, hauled away all the parts, dismantled the foundation, took it all apart. Four feet below ground. They'll remove all the roads and restore it back to the original state that it was before this project started," Fenendael said.

Perhaps the biggest impact of the wind farm coming down will be financial.

Property owners will no longer receive lease payments from WPS.

The town had negotiated an $8,000 annual impact fee with the company.

"It's been a nice chunk of change obviously, that'll go away but at the same time it was not like we depend on it either. It's not good by any means but it's not going to be the end of the world for the town," Cochart said.

That's not all, the town of Lincoln and Kewaunee County will both lose thousands of dollars in what's called a utility aid payment.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, in 2018, the utility aid payment for the Lincoln wind farm was $39,920.72. The town of Lincoln gets one-third of that money. Kewaunee County gets two-thirds of it. Now that the wind farm is being decommissioned, those payments will decrease by 20% each year for the next five years.

Cochart has mixed feelings about the WPS wind farm coming down.

"I can see the big picture but at the same time I wonder why they ones on the other end of town are still running," he said.

The other wind turbines he's talking about are operated by Madison Gas and Electric just a few miles away.

A spokesperson for that company says there are no plans to decommission its 17 turbines and they are expected to operate for the foreseeable future.

As for WPS and its future in wind:

"We still have wind energy as a significant part of our renewable energy portfolio," Cullen said.

Cullen points to two other wind farms WPS has added in recent years: The Crane Creek Wind Farm in Iowa in 2009 and a portion of the Forward Wind Energy Center in Fond du Lac County which WPS acquired earlier this year.

The company is also proposing two solar facilities one in Two Creeks and the other in southwestern Wisconsin.

Cullen says the energy from those facilities will more than make up for the power generated by the Lincoln wind farm, since the power generated at their plants is made available to all of their customers.

"Wind energy is still going to be an important part of our renewable energy portfolio as we move forward," Cullen said.

That may be. It just won't be in the town of Lincoln.

A spokesman for WPS says the closure will have no impact on rates.

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