Wind farm legislation sailing through the Legislature lost its breeze this week.
A Senate committee delayed action on the bipartisan bill that would establish state wind farm guidelines for counties and towns after opponents in favor of local control spoke out at a public hearing.
With a week to go in the legislative session, the delay endangers a bill that came together in the last few weeks.
Under the proposal, any local regulations of wind farms would have to be consistent with Public Service Commission of Wisconsin rules. The PSC would also be granted rule-making authority over wind farms.
The legislation is in response to local governments that passed ordinances to limit where wind farms can be built.
Trempealeau County passed an ordinance in late 2007 that said wind farms could not be developed within one mile of neighboring residences, schools, hospitals and businesses.
AgWind Energy Partners, which had been looking to develop a wind farm in Trempealeau County, complained the rule left them no space to build. Other energy companies around the state have filed and threatened lawsuits over similar limitations.
Clean energy activists around the state also opposed ordinances like Trempealeau County’s, saying it sent an inaccurate “closed for business” message for the state to energy developers.
Both the Wisconsin Counties Association and the Wisconsin Towns Association support the bill, and Rick Stadleman, executive director of WTA said at Wednesday’s hearing that local municipalities need a state standard to draw from.
Opponents object to giving control of that standard to the PSC.
“This bill will preempt all local control over building wind farms,” said Glenn Stoddard, an attorney and partner in Cwest, a group formed to help preserve local control over wind farm approvals. “Even though it says local governments still can make the final decision in the matter, that decision is still directed by the PSC.”
Stoddard added that the wind energy bill isn’t needed, because the PSC has to approve any project that generates more than 100 megawatts of energy.
“These companies that build the farms just want a green light and a blank check,” he said. “This bill is just something that was compromised in the back room.”
Eric Calisto, an attorney and executive assistant to PSC Chairman Dan Ebert, said the bill would give the PSC total control over approving wind farms. He added that while the bill came together quickly, it doesn’t mean it’s a rush job.
“We’re working in the cauldron, the pressure cooker right now,” he said. “Every lawyer knows that when you get a case, you don’t bust your (butt) on it right away – you get to work in the last three weeks.”
Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, and Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay, introduced the legislation in the Senate and Assembly. Their proposal was delayed Wednesday by the opposition voiced during a public hearing by the Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Rail.
The committee, chaired by Plale, intended to hold an executive session on the bill following the public hearing to move it to the Senate floor as quickly as possible. But after the public hearing, the committee agreed to delay an executive vote on the bill and took no formal action.
The legislation now needs to pass the Assembly and Senate, and get Gov. Jim Doyle’s signature, by the end of next week.
Doyle supports the legislation, said Carla Zigue, a spokeswoman for the governor.
An aide to Plale said Wednesday the bill likely would move forward next week.
The bill was introduced this week. The Assembly held a public hearing on it Tuesday.
Amber Hodgson, the clerk of the Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Rail, said the legislation is not a rush job.
“This is a byproduct of the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming,” she said. “Both. Sen. Plale and Rep. Montgomery serve on the task force, and they were supposed to have policy recommendations done in early fall. It became clear then that more time was needed, but it was decided by the senator that wind energy was one of the most important things they were looking at, so he worked to get something together for this session.”
Ryan Schryver, clean energy advocate for Clean Wisconsin, said the bill has enough support to pass before the end of the session.
“Something has to be done this session,” he said. “It’s not often you get Clean Wisconsin, the Sierra Club, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers all sitting around the table in agreement on something. WTA and WCA support it, and I think the Legislature recognizes all that.”
7 March 2008
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