In 2009, Wisconsin Act 40 directed the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (Commission or PSC) to appoint a Wind Siting Council (Council or WSC) to provide advice to the PSC during the rule- making process for the siting of wind turbines. Act 40 also requires that Council to submit a report to the Legislature every 5 years to provide updated information about health research and regulatory developments, as well as to provide recommendations for legislation if needed.
Act 40 specifies the makeup of the membership of the Wind Siting Council and it created a bias in the form of a majority made up of several pro-wind energy interests and pro-wind environmentalists versus a minority of others who would focus on safety and health. Because of that built-in pro-wind bias, the Council’s minority created this Minority Report to reveal the information that the Council majority omitted from the Wind Siting Council report to the Legislature.
The pro-wind bias, as found on the Wind Siting Council, is found on the PSC staff as well. One reason for the PSC’s bias is that it seems they deem that the statute for Renewable Portfolio Standards requires them to “go easy” on safety and health restrictions for wind energy projects. This bias has created wind siting rules in Wisconsin that are not as protective as they should be. Wisconsin’s wind siting law and rules (PSC 128) require local units of government to process applications for all but the largest wind projects. These wind projects are extremely complicated and are often unique to the local land features. But local governments are not allowed to consider safety and health protections that are more restrictive than PSC 128. So, they cannot require protections to suit the local circumstances, to adopt the recommendations of their medical or technical experts or engineers, to accommodate the latest science, or to require the latest protective technologies. Wisconsin law and PSC 128 require local government units to approve these wind projects with noise restrictions and setbacks that the Council’s current regulatory review would consider to be some of the least protective in the country.
This Minority Report highlights areas in PSC 128 that differ from health standards and best practices found in the documents reviewed by the Council for the Majority Report, differences that were downplayed by the pro-wind Council majority. These health standards and best practices are designed to protect non-participating homeowners’ health and property rights. These best practices strike a balance between protecting residents and creating a regulatory environment that the wind industry can use to get approvals that work for both the industry and the communities where they are built.
Because Wisconsin’s wind siting law is so dysfunctional, wind turbine development plans are met with great opposition by the communities where they are proposed. The communities that object are aware of the health concerns that are described in the Minority Report. Wind turbine noise is linked to chronic sleep disturbance, which is linked to more serious physical maladies. Wisconsin law does not allow setbacks that adequately prevent harmful noise impacts to homeowners. Officials are not permitted to set wind turbine setbacks any farther than an arbitrary 1250-foot or 3.1 times the total height, whichever is less, from a neighbor’s occupied structure.
The Council’s regulatory review also found that, because Wisconsin’s setback is from a wind turbine to a neighbor’s occupied structure, some of that neighbor’s land is now inside the “safety setback” distance from the wind turbine. This “safety setback” can overlap as much as 800 feet of that neighbor’s property. This is a “taking” of the owner’s property right to use their land for intended purposes because it is no longer possible to build with local building setbacks near their property line and stay outside of the “safety setback” due to a turbine being located nearby. In other states there is a trend to create setbacks a safe distance from the neighbor’s property line instead of the neighbor’s structure.
A significant study done by a member of the Council showed that the towns in which wind projects have been built in Wisconsin have population densities generally much higher than towns or townships in neighboring states where similar projects have been built. Couple this with the fact that the wind resource in Wisconsin is much less than in these neighboring states, and it is like forcing a square peg into a round hole, whereby there is likely to be some severe damage. Wisconsin’s existing wind projects have been permitted in our more populated areas, and thus, are more often too close to residences with more resultant negative health impacts than in other states.
This Council minority concludes that Wisconsin’s wind siting law needs revision for noise protection and property rights protection. Also, a restructuring of the Wind Siting Council makeup is needed to eliminate bias, as is a restructuring of what information the Council is allowed to review in order to advise the Legislature about wind energy systems. Rewriting the wind siting laws to offer better protections for non-participating residents and correcting the bias of the Wind Sting Council will restore the public trust in the wind-siting laws of Wisconsin, creating a win-win situation for both the wind industry and non-participating residents.
To proceed wisely, the minority, the majority and numerous technical and public policy experts agree that more acoustic and epidemiological studies are needed. Wisconsin wind projects are ripe for such studies before more damage is done, but government funding is needed.
Also, Wisconsin needs a process to compensate those citizens who had to abandon their homes to get relief from negative health effects, who have not moved and suffer negative health effects, or who have taken a financial loss due to a neighboring wind project.
Prepared by Dr. James Amstadt, Carl Kuehne, Tom Meyer, and Glen Schwalbach, P.E.
Additionally signed onto by Mary Brandt and Tim Roehl
(As presented in Appendix F of the Wind Siting Council October 2014 Report)
Download original document: “Wisconsin Wind Siting Council – Minority Response”
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