Wind farm skeptic Lynda Barry-Kawula was already concerned about a bill that would dramatically expand the state ‘s role in deciding where the towering stands of windmills should be built.
Adding to her discomfort was the gale-force speed with which the bill almost blew through the Legislature Wednesday.
“I don ‘t understand what the rush is, ” said Barry-Kawula, who ‘s concerned a proposed wind farm near Evansville in the town of Magnolia in Rock County could be built near her home. “I ‘d like to know what we ‘re buying. ”
Supporters appeared poised to pass the bill Wednesday, less than two weeks after it was introduced. But it was blocked at the last minute by a bipartisan group of senators concerned about whether the bill had been properly vetted.
The proposal is one of many zipping through the Capitol, often without much public notice, in the final mad rush of the legislative session. Supporters of the proposals say it ‘s important to take quick action to help promote state priorities such as renewable energy.
Critics said the process can end up shutting out the public, an argument that helped derail the wind-farm proposal.
Eric Callisto, an official with the state Public Service Commission, noted the wind farm bill has the support of the agency’s three commissioners, Gov. Jim Doyle, the state ‘s business lobby and some environmental groups.
That’s because it addresses concerns from developers who want predictable rules about whether wind farms – and the renewable energy they bring – would be approved, he said.
“Any time you have Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Sierra Club supporting the same piece of legislation, you know you have something that should get done quickly and has broad support, ” said Callisto, executive assistant to PSC chairman Dan Ebert. “Lots of good legislation gets done at the end of the session. This is just that kind of piece. ”
Now, the decision to allow developers to build a wind farm is left to local governments. Under the bill, the PSC would work with other interested groups to develop statewide standards that local governments would have to follow in passing ordinances and making decisions on wind farms. If landowners or developers are unhappy with a local government’s decision, they could appeal to the PSC and, after that, to state courts.
The bill was effectively killed Wednesday when it was referred back to a scheduling committee. A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, said there were no plans to bring it to the floor today, the last day of the Legislature ‘s regularly scheduled session.
Opponents said they wanted to include local governments and other groups more directly in writing the new state rules. Wind farms being proposed around the state include a plan to put six turbines in the town of Springfield in northwestern Dane County.
The key dispute over the proposal – by Sen. Jeff Plale, D-Milwaukee, and Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Ashwaubenon – is how far wind farms should have to be set back from surrounding homes to protect property owners from unreasonable noise.
Town of Magnolia supervisor David Olsen said he hopes any new state rule wouldn ‘t override local ordinances such as the one his town board is considering. It would require wind farms to be set back one-half mile from homes.
Mark O ‘Connell, executive director of the Wisconsin Counties Association, said he’s confident the proposal would preserve local control over wind farms.
But, “it’s always difficult when you have a major issue that seems to be on a fast track at the end of a session, and this does,” said O ‘Connell, whose group hasn’t had time to take a position on the bill. “If you’ve been in the energy arena, you’ve been aware of this, but the public really hasn’t been.”
Other bills moving quickly in the Capitol in recent days include another proposal by Plale and Montgomery, this one to increase competition among rural telephone service providers.
The bill, passed by the Senate on Wednesday, has been criticized by groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons because it lessens requirements to notify rural consumers about price increases.
By Jason Stein
12 March 2008
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