TOWN OF SCOTT - How's this for irony? The construction of the state's largest wind energy facility is on hold, on account of wind.

The towers - the lower two components of them, anyway - were supposed to start piercing the skyline of northeastern Columbia County this week.

Instead, the components were, as of Thursday morning, lying on their sides, while the anemometers at the top of the cranes clocked wind speeds at about 40 mph. That's about 15 mph too brisk for the safe construction of the towers.

It's no surprise to Mike Strader of We Energies that breezes can get a tad gusty in these parts. That's a key reason why We Energies is building the 90 turbine towers that will comprise Glacier Hills Wind Park on about farmland occupying about 17,300 acres in Columbia County's towns of Randolph and Scott.

But, if the wind gusts to 25 mph or more, as it has all week, it's not safe to erect the towers.

"What we can't do is what we would love to do - put up those towers," Strader said.

Starting Monday, plans had called for the arrival of the components of eight towers per day. The four segments of each tower would arrive, one at a time, from Manitowoc on trucks with about eight axles to distribute the weight evenly.

Many of the turbine blades have already arrived by rail from Colorado; most are being stored, for now, on a town of Courtland parcel approved by Columbia County's planning and zoning committee as a temporary staging area for the Glacier Hills project.

We Energies spokeswoman Cathy Schulze said that, for the most part, gawking at the construction will be discouraged, for the safety of the public and the workers, and because much of the technology is proprietary.

But the curiosity is understandable, she said, and an open house Wednesday is intended to satisfy that curiosity.

"A lot of people want to see these things," she said. "This is a very good way let people get up close, without jeopardizing themselves and others."

Strader said it had been hoped that at least the bottom two sections of a tower located near the construction office on Highway H, in the town of Scott, would have already been up by the time open house guests arrive Wednesday.

That doesn't seem likely, given recent windy conditions, but it's possible that people could see the components hoisted up Thursday.

Starting in the southeast quadrant of the construction area, Strader said, the base and "lower mid" segments of towers will be put up first.

The base component can be identified by a flange that sticks out around its bottom circumference. That's the part that will be in contact with the ground, and held in place by grouting.

About six weeks after the bottom two segments of a tower go in, the top two segments will be installed, along with the nacelle (an enclosure at the top of each tower that contains the generator and transformer), the hub and the three blades.

The project is due to be finished in December, Strader said, and the wind delays so far have not put the project too far behind schedule - though there may be times when weather-delayed weekday work might have to be made up on Saturdays.

And yes, he said, some area people have let Glacier Hills construction workers know - sometimes by honked vehicle horns or shouts from vehicle windows - that they're not happy about having 90 400-foot towers going up near where they live.

At the public hearings held before the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin authorized the project - with conditions - residents raised health-related concerns, such as low-level noise and shadow flicker, as well as concerns about loss of TV reception, dangers to birds and bats and challenges for landing helicopter ambulances in the project's vicinity.

"We're building a project that not everybody wants in the community," Strader said. "But, if alternative energy is to be produced in Wisconsin, then wind is one of the most viable resources."

ljerde@

745-3587

Want a closer look? Open house set Wednesday

The public is invited to take a closer look Wednesday at the construction of Glacier Hills Wind Park - including the big components of the 90 wind turbine towers that are going up in the towns of Scott and Randolph.

We Energies will have an open house from 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Glacier Hills construction office, N7844 Highway H, about a half-mile south of Highway 33 in the town of Scott.

In addition to viewing components and construction equipment, participants may sign their names to a turbine blade.

Officials of We Energies will be there to answer questions about the Glacier Hills project.

By the numbers

14: The approximate diameter, in feet, of the hollow space inside one of the Glacier Hills Wind Park towers, where there's a ladder by which maintenance workers can access the towers.

138: The weight, in tons, of each completed tower.

148: The length, in feet, of each of the three turbine blades on each tower.

410: The height, in feet, from the ground to the top of the highest-reaching blade.

3: The number of quality checks that each turbine must pass before it's operational. The turbines also will be inspected for safety periodically once they start generating electricity.

4: The number of sections in each tower.

56: The number of miles of underground trenching for the electrical distribution system within Glacier Hills. A lot of that is along Highway 33 just west of Cambria.

8: The number of axles on a truck that hauls a single segment of a turbine tower.

100 to 105: The number of feet high that the bottom two components of a tower - the base and the "lower mid" - stand once they're assembled.

2: The number of towers per day that We Energies had hoped to build, starting Monday.

0: The number of towers that have been built as of Thursday.