A bill that would annually take from counties hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility aid generated by wind farms and give it to towns provides a needed incentive to approve the controversial wind projects, the bill’s author says.
State Rep. John LeMahieu, R-Cascade, told the Assembly Energy and Utilities Committee that town board members take “a lot of grief” from the public when they approve wind farms. He cited the recall election held Tuesday involving a Calumet County board supervisor who favored a wind farm project.
“Unless the towns approve them, we won’t have wind farms in this state. They’re certainly not going up in the city of Fond du Lac,” he said.
Under LeMahieu’s bill, $208,000 in utility aid payments would be shifted this year from Fond du Lac County to the towns in which Cedar Ridge, Forward Energy and Blue Skies Green Fields are located.
Under current law, utilities pay $2,000 per mega watt to local governments where their generation facilities are located. Cities receive two-thirds of the payment and counties receive one-third. If a power plant is located in a township, the county gets two-thirds of amount while the town receives one-third.
Town board members from Fond du Lac County asked LeMahieu last summer to reverse the compensation situation, saying they needed a more equitable split since they were taking the political heat as well as provided the roads and fire service to the wind farms.
“That $208,000 isn’t a lot to a county, but it’s a much bigger percentage of a town’s budget. Beside, if the towns don’t approve them, the county wouldn’t even get its one-third share,” said LeMahieu.
Even though Fond du Lac County would lose aid under the bill, County Executive Allen Buechel said he wouldn’t publicly oppose it.
“In many Wisconsin counties, counties make the zoning decisions. They don’t have town zoning like we do in Fond du Lac County, so the towns in Fond du Lac County have carried the fight on these wind mills, which is why I’m not going to oppose (the bill),” he said.
The Wisconsin Counties Association is opposed to the bill as it diminishes a revenue source counties need to run the courts, sheriff’s department, human services and other costly services mandated by the state, said John Reinemann, a WCA lobbyist.
“Any time we see someone trying to take away (our) utility aid payments, we want to discuss it with them. We expect there is some rationale for the bill, and we’d be interested in listening and discussing it with them,” he said.
Another reason to oppose the bill is the pending change in Wisconsin’s regulatory climate, said Monica Groves Batiza, a WCA legislative assistant. The WCA is working with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to establish standards for wind farms statewide and doesn’t want to separate utility aid payments from a more comprehensive view of wind energy.
“We know that’s happening, and we know we’re going to be impacted either way, so we have chosen to be part of that discussion from the beginning. We along with the Wisconsin Towns Association are part of deciding what those standards are … and what this bill does is set up winners and losers, and that’s never a good situation for towns or counties,” Batiza said.
The committee took no action on the bill Tuesday, but LeMahieu said a hearing Thursday in the Senate on an identical bill encouraged him that the bill had a chance of passage before the legislative term ends next month.
By Kevin Murphy
For The Reporter
14 February 2008
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