Milwaukee wind turbine report card

June 01, 2012

Reprinted with permission from

The statuesque gleaming white wind turbine on Milwaukee’s south shore is viewed by thousands of people each day as they cross the Hoan Bridge or bike along the south leg of the Oak Leaf Trail. It is one of the first landmarks visitors see when they disembark from the Lake Express ferry. And for many, it has become a symbol of the progressive Bay View community.

Located on the lawn of the Port of Milwaukee’s administration building, 2323 S. Lincoln Memorial Dr., Milwaukee’s wind turbine stretches 156 feet from its base to the tip of a blade. At the ceremonial ribbon cutting May 14, Port Director Eric Reinelt proclaimed it “a towering achievement.”

But the turbine is generating more than aesthetic and symbolic value—and Reinelt’s pun.

It’s cranking out a lot of power.

A short history

The turbine was sited on Milwaukee’s south shore because it possesses one of the best wind profiles in southeastern Wisconsin. Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability (OES) purchased the turbine to power the port administration building and to sell the surplus energy it creates back to We Energies.

Although Vermont-based Northern Power manufactured the turbine, OES requested that they source parts and services from Wisconsin businesses. More than 10 state-based firms contributed including Bassett Mechanical (Kaukauna) who manufactured the tower and Kettle View Renewable Energy (Random Lake) who installed the tower and turbine. The two primary subcontractors were RL Davis (Milwaukee) and Arch Electric (Plymouth).

The turbine is a highly automated, sophisticated piece of machinery. The Northern Power 100 turbine is capable of producing up to 100 kilowatts per hour at peak performance. To produce the most energy, it automatically turns to face wind direction (yaw). It is designed so that its blades cease spinning in extreme weather.

The turbine’s price tag was $587,000 which OES paid for with grants. Federal stimulus funds specifically earmarked for city of Milwaukee renewable energy and energy efficiency projects were used. We Energies and Focus on Energy contributed $100,000 each with renewable energy incentives and grants. The tower is rated to last for 100 years. The turbine, with regular maintenance and recommended service upgrades should operate for 40 years, or longer.

Conservative estimates originally projected that the turbine’s annual electricity production would be between 109,000 and 152,000 kilowatt hours (kWh). However, since it began operating February 27, the turbine has already generated approximately 45,000 kWh as of May 18. Based on the electricity produced since start up, current projections estimate that the turbine will generate about 180,000 kWh annually, which exceeds the original highest estimate. This metric is subject to change since wind conditions will vary from season to season.

In the first billing period, from March 22 to April 24, the turbine produced $2,088 worth of power, based on We Energies’ rates for the port building. But $1500 of that power was consumed, which resulted in a $588 check from We Energies to the Port of Milwaukee. (The building uses about 100,000 kWh per year; the average home uses about 9,000 kWh per year.)

There are two electric meters that assist We Energies with the energy accounting process each month, both located on the Port administration building. A traditional meter measures the building load. Building load refers to the electrical demand/total usage for a building.

The second meter is the We Energies meter that measures the electricity generated by the turbine. The wind turbine sends excess electricity to the grid when the electricity output from the turbine exceeds the electricity being used by the building.

Other benefits

Just as important as the energy and cost savings metrics are the positive environmental impacts. Wind is a clean energy source. It doesn’t produce carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), or nitrogen oxides (NOX), the pollutants created by fossil-fuel generated electricity. To put this in perspective, consider the 45,000 kWh produced by the wind turbine. If a fossil-fuel based generator produced 45,000 kWh of electricity, it would take 1,200 mature trees to absorb the CO2 produced by burning that fuel.

To date there have been no reported bird or other animal deaths caused by the turbine.

Milwaukee’s wind turbine is not the answer to all of the questions and concerns regarding fossil fuel use, but it is a first step and certainly a step in the right direction. The turbine is producing more electricity than the original projections. It is quieter than some older models of this wind turbine; there has been no reported negative sound impact on area residential and commercial neighbors.

However, despite the early success of the turbine, the city is not considering constructing more—they are expensive and it is difficult to find quality wind sites in an urban environment. Instead, the city and OES are focusing on energy efficiency through the Milwaukee Energy Efficiency program ( and renewable energy through the Milwaukee Shines solar program (

Mayor Barrett, who played a key role in making the turbine a reality, has observed that the wind turbine demonstrates Milwaukee’s commitment to clean energy. It represents an intelligent use of renewable energy, it is a symbol of Milwaukee’s resurgence, and it is an example of city leaders living up to Wisconsin’s state motto: Forward.

If you would like to monitor some of the turbine’s metrics, you may do so at There you will be able to monitor the real time kilowatt-hour production, yaw, wind speed, turbine’s performance history, and environmental metrics. (A note about the cost savings metric on the website: it is not the running total of We Energies’ reimbursement for excess energy generation. The cost savings that are reported on the website simply indicate the amount of kWh produced, multiplied by $0.13 —the average cost of a kWh.)

Using 2012 electricity rates, it would take 20 years for the turbine to pay for itself, but it is important to note that Wisconsin electricity rates have increased 69% in the last 10 years—an average annual rate increase of 5.4%. If Wisconsin electricity rates continue to increase at this average annual-pace, the time it will take for the turbine to pay for itself drops considerably.

Matt Howard is Director of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability.


City of Milwaukee


  • Wind