Forward Energy Center
Turbine type: GE 1.5 MW SLE Wind Turbines
No. of turbines: 86
Total project size:129 MW
Location: Townships of Byron and Oakfield, in southern Fond du Lac County; townships of Leroy and Lomira in northern Dodge County
Developer and Owner: Forward Energy LLC
Power purchasers: Madison Gas & Electric, Wisconsin Power & Light, Wisconsin Public Service, WPPI Energy
Director of Communications
The Forward Energy Center extends across four towns and two counties. The northern half of the project is located in Fond du Lac County while the southern half is situated in Dodge County. The towns of Oakfield and Byron are located along Fond du Lac County’s southern boundary, while the towns of Lomira and Leroy are located in the northeast corner of Dodge County. Bisecting the project is State Highway (S.H.) 49, which defines an east-west corridor connecting Horicon Marsh to the west with U.S. Highway 41 to the east. The project zone covers about 32,000 acres, the equivalent of 50 square miles. Only one population center, the village of Brownsville, lies inside within the project boundaries. A cheese processing plant, owned by Grande Cheese Company, is located within the project area, along S.H. 49 west of Brownsville.
Dodge County has a wind overlay district covering Leroy and Lomira. In contrast to the Dodge County townships, there is no countywide zoning ordinance that applies to Oakfield and Byron. According to 2000 Census figures, the towns of Oakfield and Byron have about 2,600 residents while 2,300 people reside in the towns of Leroy and Lomira. The largest population center within the project zone is the village of Brownsville, with 570 residents. Abutting the project area are the villages of Oakfield, with 1,000 residents, and Lomira, with 2,300 residences. The largest city in the area is Fond du Lac, situated 10 miles north of Brownsville. In 2000, Fond du Lac’s population was 42,000.
As stated in the March 2005 Environmental Impact Statement on the Forward Wind Project, “the primary land use is agriculture, with an average farm size of approximately 200 acres. Scattered among the farmsteads are small clusters of newer residences, many of them constructed within the past 10 to 15 years. In addition to the many county and town roads within the project area, a substantial amount of traffic passes through the area on S.H. 49 and along its eastern edge on S.H. 175 and U.S. 41.”
Forward’s turbines are set back a minimum of two miles from two large public properties that adjoin each other: the 21,147-acre Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the 11,091-acre Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area, managed by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). The largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States, Horicon Marsh is a heavily used stopover area for migratory birds and waterfowl. Over 260 species of birds have been sighted in the area. Many of them also venture into the surrounding uplands to feed and rest.
To the east of Horicon Marsh rises the Niagara Escarpment. The elevation change from the marsh to the top of the escarpment is about 300 feet. Well exposed to winds from the west, the steep slope along the western edge of the escarpment gives way to a gently rolling plateau that characterizes the entire project zone. Two north/south ridges separated by a shallow valley are the prominent topographical features within the project zone. Elevations range from 900 feet to 1,230 feet above mean sea level.
The project lies inside a triangle defined by three well-traveled highways: U.S. Highway 151, which runs northeast of the city of Madison to the city of Fond du Lac; U.S. 41, which runs northwest from the city of Milwaukee to Fond du Lac; and Interstate 94, the east-west corridor connecting Milwaukee and Madison. The driving times from Madison to Brownsville in the center of the Forward project run a little longer than an hour. From the intersection of U.S. 41 and U.S. 151 in Fond du Lac, the drive to Brownsville takes about 15 minutes. Motorists traveling along U.S. 41 are afforded excellent views of the turbines from Fond du Lac to Lomira. Also visible along that stretch of highway to the east are We Energies’ two-turbine Byron project and, off in the distance, Alliant Energy’s 41-turbine Cedar Ridge project along U.S. Highway 45.
The drive toward Forward from the west offers arguably the most dramatic approach to any wind project in Wisconsin. Atop the Niagara Escarpment that marks the eastern boundary of Horicon March, Forward’s westernmost strings of turbines are plainly visible from U.S. 151 more than 10 miles away. Exiting onto S.H. 49, Forward’s turbines slowly recede from view as one drives east through the marsh. Once in the marsh proper, they disappear altogether, obscured by the ledge itself. Approaching the ledge, S.H. 49 curves south and then west again. When the road reaches the top of the ledge, the turbines, some as close as one mile away, suddenly reappear into view, standing tall among farm buildings and fields. At that point, most of Forward’s turbines are in view, forming a panorama extending in three directions.
Placed in service in May 2008, the Forward Energy Center consists of 86 GE SLE 1.5 MW turbines, each rated at 1.5 megawatts (MW), totaling 129 MW. The project is owned and operated by Forward Energy, LLC. For a few days, Forward was the largest operating wind energy installation in Wisconsin. Forward’s brief reign was ended when We Energies fully energized its 145 MW Blue Sky Green Field facility later that month. When We Energies’ Glacier Hills project began commercial operations in December 2011, Forward became the third-largest wind energy installation in Wisconsin.
The output from the Forward Energy Center is sold under long-term contracts to four Wisconsin electricity providers—16.5 MW to Madison Gas & Electric, 27.5 MW to Wisconsin Power & Light, 57.5 MW to Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, and 27.5 MW to WPPI Energy (serving more than 40 municipal utilities in Wisconsin).
The table below details the distribution of Forward’s turbines within the four townships and two counties.
|Township||County||No. of turbines||Capacity (in MW)|
|Byron||Fond du Lac||20<||30<|
|Oakfield||Fond du Lac||17||25.5|
State Highway 175, which parallels U.S Highway 41, forms the eastern boundary of the project, while Fond du Lac County Hwy. F defines the northern edge and Elm Road marks the southern extension. The project’s western boundary follows a two-mile buffer separating the turbines from the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge and, to its south, the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area. The project’s 86 turbines are configured in three distinct clusters. One runs along an east-west axis in Fond du Lac County between County Hwy. F and the Dodge County line. The second runs from south of the City of Oakfield into Leroy along both sides of County Hwys. Y and YY. The third cluster parallels a north-south running transmission line west of Brownsville.
Within the project zone, Forward’s turbine sites are more than 1,050 feet above mean sea level. There is a one-mile buffer between the village of Brownsville and the nearest wind turbine.
The electricity generated at this installation is transformed to a voltage level of 34.5 kilovolts by transformers adjacent to each turbine. Underground collector circuits connect strings of turbines to the central substation, where the electricity is stepped up and fed into another north-south running transmission line along the eastern edge of the project zone. The transmission line is rated at 138 kilovolts. The substation is located in the Town of Byron, west of S.H. 175 near W. Byron Road.
Motorists driving along S.H. 49 can pull over at an educational kiosk west of Brownsville to learn more about the Forward project and wind energy in general. In the background behind the kiosk stand a cluster of wind turbines to the northwest and another to the northeast.
The project’s Operations and Maintenance (O&M) building is located in Brownsville on the north side of S.H. 49 across from the Brownsville Community Club. Michels Corporation, Forward’s general contractor, is located one block east of the O&M building. The Forward Energy Center may be the only wind energy installation in North America whose general contractor is headquartered within the project zone.
Conditional Use Permits with host townships: Issued July 2005 (Dodge County) and October 2005 (Fond du Lac County)
PSC Permit:Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (9300-CE-100) - issued July 2005
Project footprint: 18.75 sq. miles (approx. 12,000 acres)
Maximum permissible sound threshold to neighboring residences: 50 dBa
Minimum setback distance from neighboring residences: 3 x total height (Dodge County); 1,000 ft. (Fond du Lac County)
Wind Facilities Neighbors Agreement: $500 per year if one turbine is within 1/3rd mile of a neighboring property owner’s residence, $750 per year if two or more turbines are within 1/3rd mile of a neighboring property owner’s residence.
Tip height: 389 ft.
Hub height: 262 ft.
Rotor diameter: 252 ft.
Blade length: 122 ft.
Blade weight: 14,000 pounds (seven tons)
Nacelle weight: 63 tons
Tower weight: 147 tons
Volume of concrete in each foundation: 254 cu. yards
Total Weight: 290 tons
Anticipated annual production: 340,000,000 kWh
Annual payments to host counties: $171,500 (Dodge); $129,500 (Fond du Lac)
Annual payments to host towns: Byron: $50,000; Leroy: $92,500; Lomira: $30,000; Oakfield: $42,500
Total annual payments to local governmental units: $516,000
Total installed cost: $235 million
Avian and bat studies: Curry and Kerlinger
Electrical interconnection and substation: Michels Wind Energy (Brownsville)
Foundations: White Construction
General contractor: Michels Wind Energy
Roads: Michels Wind Energy
Tower erection and wiring: White Construction
Invenergy begins monitoring wind speeds in the project zone.
Invenergy conducts initial field assessments and a spring survey of bird use on the Forward project zone.
Invenergy files an application with the Public Service Commission (PSC) for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) to construct a wind project, called the Forward Energy Center, consisting of a maximum of 133 turbines with a maximum capacity of 200 MW. The project would be located in the towns of Leroy and Lomira in Dodge County and the towns of Byron and Oakfield in Fond du Lac County.
In letters to the PSC, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommend a minimum setback distance of three miles between Horicon Marsh and the Forward project. Both agencies also propose a phased approach to building the project, proceeding from the east to the west.
The PSC holds an information meeting on the project in Brownsville.
Local residents opposed to the Forward project form a group called Horicon Marsh System Advocates (HMSA). The group hires an attorney as part of its intervention in the CPCN proceeding in opposition to the project.
Invenergy’s analysis of the development’s likely impacts on avian species in the area is released.
Invenergy hosts an open house at the Brownsville Community Center.
PSC issues letter determining Invenergy’s application to be complete, triggering the 180-day review period.
March 2005 The PSC issues a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Forward project, triggering a 45-day comment period. The EIS recommends longer setback distance from marsh boundaries than 1.2 miles as proposed by Invenergy.
Invenergy agrees to perform a 12-month, four-season preconstruction avian study in the project area.
Invenergy executes an Interconnection Agreement for the Forward project with the Midwest Independent System Operator and American Transmission Company
Dodge County Planning, Development and Parks Committee approves a Conditional Use Permit that would prohibit the placement of wind turbines closer than three miles from Horicon Marsh and 9,000 feet of a private airstrip.
PSC issues final EIS.
Technical hearings on the Forward project are held in Madison, as well as public hearings in Brownsville.
PSC issues a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity authorizing the construction of Forward Wind Energy Center. The order specifies a minimum setback distance from Horicon Marsh of two miles, which requires moving or eliminating dozens of turbines along the project’s western boundary.
On the same day, the Dodge County Board of Adjustments approved a Conditional Use Permit for the project in the towns of Leroy and Lomira. In its decision, the Board removed the two restrictions approved in May earlier by the county’s Planning, Development, and Parks Committee.
Following the PSC approval, several opposition groups run radio advertisements asking Gov. Jim Doyle to intercede against the project. HMSA files a petition for a rehearing.
Sept. 2005 PSC denies HMSA’s petition for rehearing.
Within a week of each other, the Fond du Lac County towns of Byron and Oakfield issue Special Use permits allowing the Forward project to proceed.
HMSA files a Petition for Review in Dodge County Circuit Court, which also includes a petition to present additional evidence. Separately, the Village of Brownsville files a Petition for Review, also in Dodge County Circuit Court.
An agreement is reached between the Village of Brownsville and Invenergy, leading to the subsequent dismissal of the Village’s lawsuit.
Citing concerns over potential interference with military radar, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) declines to issue air navigation permits allowing the Forward project to proceed. The project is effectively stalled pending the results of a Department of Defense study on the interactions of wind turbines and their effects on radar systems.
HMSA’s lawsuit is dismissed in Dodge County Circuit Court.
HMSA files a Notice of Appeals in the Court of Appeals District IV.
Federal Aviation Agency completes its review of Forward’s impacts on air navigation systems and permits the project in full.
The Court of Appeals affirms Dodge County Circuit Court’s dismissal of HMSA’s lawsuit, effectively removing the final legal barrier to construction. Construction begins on 66 turbines (99 MW).
Turbine deliveries begin.
Invenergy commits to erect build 20 additional turbines at Forward, increasing total project capacity to 129 MW.
Invenergy places the Forward Energy Center in full commercial service.
Invenergy purchases a building in Brownsville to serve as its operations and maintenance center. The O&M staff totals nine people.
Local officials and wind energy supporters gather to hear Gov. Jim Doyle and U.S. Rep. Tom Petri dedicate the Forward Energy Center in Brownsville.
- Public Service Commission press release (07-08-05)
- Macalester University Wind Energy - Visual Impacts and Public Perceptions
- CPCN Application
- Final Environmental Impact Statement
- PSC Order
- “Doyle dedicates wind project near Fond du Lac,” October 2008 Fond du Lac Reporter article
- Forward Energy Center - Earning Approval from Multiple Jurisdictions