Opponents argue sweeping rules need work
The state Senate this week could take up a bill establishing statewide guidelines for wind farms, but it’ll take a strong gust to get it to the governor’s desk by Friday.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Utilities and Rail passed the bill with a 4-3 vote Friday, following a long and contentious hearing Wednesday that prevented the committee from taking action. With the legislative session ending Friday, the wind farm bill is running out of time.
The bill stipulates that any local regulations of wind farms be consistent with rules established by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. The PSC also would be the final voice for towns and counties that want to appeal a decision on whether to allow construction of a wind farm.
It’s a response to local governments that passed varying ordinances to limit where wind farms can be built. In late 2007, Trempealeau County passed an ordinance that said wind farms could not be developed within one mile of neighboring residences, schools, hospitals and businesses, the largest setback distance in Wisconsin.
Friday’s vote followed party lines, and committee member Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, said political affiliations aside, the push for the bill is too hard for such a small window.
“This thing just came too quick,” he said. “We first heard about it on Feb. 29, and local people didn’t even know the bill existed. I hope the Senate holds off on taking it up.
“This thing has barely been vetted, and it’s irresponsible of us to vote on something that seems so rushed.”
Lynda Barry-Kawula, who owns a farm in Spring Valley with her husband, knows which way she’d vote if given the chance.
“If it passes, we’re leaving the farm,” she said. “We’re just in misery now.”
While she described herself as almost excessively green, she said her opinion on wind power changed dramatically in the last year as developers went to Rock County to set up wind farms.
“I was just shocked to learn things like they can’t operate without electricity from another plant, which might be a coal-fired backup,” she said. “This is a big machine we’re talking about, 40 stories tall and wider than a 747, and putting it close to homes just seems dangerous. There’s nothing in the bill about wildlife protection.
“It’s just not ready.”
Cowles said that while he opposes the bill, it’s for a far simpler reason.
“I didn’t have time to verify the things they said about power grids and needing back-up power,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s true. This thing just needs more time.”
But Sen. Jeff Plale, the South Milwaukee Democrat who authored the bill and is chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Utilities and Rail, said it’s been talked about for a long time by both the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming and the PSC.
“It just starts the product rolling,” he said. “People that oppose it will still have many more kicks at the can. But if we don’t start it rolling now, we’ll have to wait until January to do something.
“That’s a long time, and we’ve got renewable portfolio standards that have to be met.”
Wisconsin is required to pull 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015, and a spokesperson in Gov. Doyle’s office said last week that Doyle is a strong proponent of the wind farms bill and would sign it if it reached his desk.
The Assembly drew up its own version of the bill, authored by Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay, to pass it in conjunction with the Senate bill and expedite the process. Although an Assembly Committee held a hearing Tuesday, the bill is still in committee.
Plale said the Senate might have to pass its version quickly to get it to the Assembly, but he said he’s worried there won’t be enough time .
While she was encouraged that the bill just barely made it out of committee, Barry-Kawula, said she also was disappointed that it passed on a party line vote.
“I hope,” she said, “that my fellow Democrats don’t just take a knee-jerk reaction to go green.”
While Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Senate, Cowles said he spoke with Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, about his concerns over the bill being rushed, and he said some Senate Democrats might also be tentative about passing the bill. Vinehout could not be reached for comment Monday.
Plale, too, said he’ll be disappointed if the bill simply follows party lines.
“I think,” he said, “it’s in everyone’s best interest to do something good for the state here that doesn’t create a patchwork set of rules.”
By Paul Snyder
11 March 2008
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