Residents in some Calumet County towns have spent the last two years jousting with developers and major landowners over huge wind turbines on titanic wind farms.
The sparring is set to culminate Tuesday, when the Calumet County Board considers a special committee’s recommendations to tighten the county’s rules about where developers can put wind turbines – proposals designed to temper 400-foot wind turbines’ effects on neighbors’ lives.
Calumet County, where wind speeds average 13 mph, is one of the state’s most promising sites for wind energy. It is also an idyllic countryside former city dwellers appreciate for its rolling hills and quaint farmsteads their residential lots neighbor.
Ironically, the most likely casualty in this clash of titans is a tiny project New Holstein Utilities had been banking on to generate a fair amount of the electricity its customers will need in the future.
“I think the proposals make it extremely difficult to do anything,” said Tom Paque, vice president of customer service and administration for Wisconsin Public Power Inc., the wholesaler that buys electricity on behalf of municipal utilities. “If it were implemented, I think it takes our project off the table.”
The proposed rules, according to developers EcoEnergy Inc. and Midwest Wind Energy, will make the two big projects they had planned extremely difficult. They increase from 1,000 feet to 1,800 feet the required space between turbines and houses or schools. They also add a 1,000-foot buffer between windmills and things like parks, trails and barns.
They prohibit “flicker” from turbines at any traffic intersection. Also, they reduce the noise turbines can emit from 50 decibels total – roughly the sound of light traffic – to five decibels more than whatever noise was there before.
Finding wind strong enough to make a turbine spin profitably is already hard, the developers say. Any one of the above would eliminate many sites. Combined, they would exclude nearly all.
But if the county passes the rules Tuesday, the developers have some options for salvaging their two 50-turbine projects.
They can claim the new regulations exceed the county’s regulatory authority, which is limited to protecting health and safety, and sue.
Or, they can enlarge their proposed projects by a few turbines and circumnavigate the county to qualify for the state Public Service Commission’s approval process.
That way, they say, they get more of the red tape they would initially hoped to avoid, but also more objectivity.
But New Holstein’s five trifling turbines aren’t worth suing over and don’t qualify for the PSC’s regulatory attention. EcoEnergy had planned to build them on properties in the rural area between the cities of New Holstein and Chilton.
“I don’t see options for the New Holstein utility project,” said Curt Bjurlin, EcoEnergy’s planner for the project. “It doesn’t have the economics to support litigation. It is clearly the case where small players get more strongly impacted than the larger players.”
New Holstein is one of Wisconsin’s 50 nonprofit, municipally owned utilities. It serves about 2,300 customers. Under perfect conditions, one wind turbine can power about 350 homes.
The proposed five-turbine project wouldn’t reduce customers’ rates directly, New Holstein Utilities Manager Randy Jaeckel said, but everything they’d produce would stay in New Holstein, and if the windmills went up in particular areas, the developer, or WPPI, would have to make some upgrades to the system New Holstein would eventually bear even without the turbines.
“If the utility doesn’t have to make the investment, it saves our ratepayers,” Jaeckel said. The exact savings would depend on a slew of variables, but it would amount to at least six figures, Jaeckel said.
Calumet County Citizens for Responsible Energy, one of several opposition groups organized to fight the wind farm projects, thinks New Holstein’s plight is unfortunate. But it doesn’t really matter whether it’s the little guy or the big guy putting up 400-foot windmills, they say. If placing turbines closer than 1,800 feet to houses, playgrounds or whatever is unsafe – and they believe it is – what difference does it make if the culprit is a large, for-profit utility or the nonprofit home team?
“Why don’t you put the turbines in the city of New Holstein?” asks Bob Welch, a former state senator Concerned Citizens has retained as a consultant.
“Seriously, why don’t you? You don’t do it because there are people and houses around. They’re not appropriate. So they want to put them in rural Chilton? Why? There are people there, too. There are neighborhoods. It’s not the Mohave Desert,” Welch said.
By Susan Squires
Post-Crescent staff writer
Proposed wind power ordinance changes
Proposed changes to Calumet County wind power ordinance:
# The audible sound emitted by Wind Energy System operations shall not be greater than 5 decibels above the background noise level for the quietest period of the day measured during the prebuild noise study.
# Each Wind Energy System shall be set back from the nearest sensitive receptor (structures intended for four season human habitation – whether inhabited or not – public parks, state designated wildlife areas, the manicured areas of private recreational establishments such as golf courses or the campsites) a distance no less than 1,000 feet.
# Each Wind Energy System shall be set back from the nearest residence, school, hospital, church or public library, a distance no less than 1,800 feet, unless appropriate easements are secured from adjacent property owners for a lesser setback.
# There can be a maximum of 90 seconds per day, or 10 hours per year of shadow/flicker effects within a 100-foot radius of a sensitive receptor. Turbines must be shut down at certain times of day or times of the year if shadow/flicker is a problem with any sensitive receptor. No shadow/flicker effect is allowed in any intersection.
Source: Calumet County
13 January 2008
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