Proposal to give PSC control ‘will be back next session’
Legislation that would have given the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin exclusive jurisdiction over the siting of wind energy turbines died in the state Senate on Wednesday.
“We voted and there was an amendment to have a citizens’ review committee, much like the farm siting bill,” Sen. Alan Lasee, R-Rockland, said.
Because of the proposed amendment, Lasee said the proposal – in the form of Senate Bill 544 – bill was sent back to committee, effectively killing it for this year.
“It will be back next session,” said Rep. Al Ott, R-Forest Junction.
The bill was introduced on Feb. 29 and given a fast track. Both Lasee and Ott opposed its passage without significant public review and input.
“There was not sufficient time to get input into this law, which would strip away local control (over windmills) and place the authority in the PSC,” Lasee said. “I’m not a big fan of this, but I’m not opposed.”
Ott said he suspects the state will eventually have the say over all windmill sitings, but rushing the plan through the legislature was objectionable.
“The right thing happened because the bill was being pushed through too quickly without any debate,” Ott said.
Lasee considered the bill an attempt to take local communities out of the process.
“The bill was designed to make it easier for them to stuff windmills down the people’s throats,” Lasee said.
He noted that the bill was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, and Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Ashwaubenon.
“Neither sponsor has the possibility of any windmills in their own districts,” Lasee said.
Lasee is not sold on windmills as worthwhile in the mix of renewable energy sources.
“You don’t get much power out of them and when you take away the (government) subsidies, they aren’t nearly as attractive,” Lasee said. “Their construction and maintenance costs are high and when the wind doesn’t blow, they don’t make electricity.”
EcoEnergy bypassing county
A wind energy firm planning to develop turbine fields in the town of Chilton and Rantoul in Calumet County has decided to no longer go through local regulation to get the project approved.
Curt Bjulin, Wisconsin project manager for EcoEnergy LLC, said his firm is now going through the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to get the project approval.
”We have has a great relationship with Calumet County, but there have been a series of moratoriums, revisions and amendments to the wind energy ordinance,” Bjulin said. “There is not much certainty.”
Bjulin said the process of getting the project approval through the PSC is longer and costly, but it is a known process unlike going through the county.
“The difference between going through the PSC and the county ordinance is the difference between certainty and an unpredictable process,” Bjulin said. “The wind energy facility in Calumet County will cost $220 million and predictability is very important with that kind of investment.”
Bjulin said the PSC already has handled the approvals of three large wind energy projects in Wisconsin.
“It is not a new process for wind energy projects,” Bjulin said. “The PCS has regulatory authority over projects of over 100 megawatts.”
Bjulin said EcoEnergy’s Calumet County project was originally under 100 megawatts, but the project was upsized in order to have one that would qualify for PSC approval.
“Because of a number of considerations, we added an extra turbine and so it is over the 100 megawatt number now,” Bjulin said.
That also means that the project would no longer be subject to local regulation.
Minnesota wind power
On Friday, the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation announced its intent to acquire 150 megawatts of power from High Country Energy, Minnesota’s largest community wind farm.
The project is owned by 60 local landowners in the Hayfield, Minn., area.
Utilities are required to get 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015.
The High Country Wind Energy Park is located in Dodge and Olmstead counties of Minnesota. WPS wants to purchase a 150-megawatt portion of the project, which is designed to produce 300 megawatts of power.
By Ed Byrne
Editor, Wrightstown Post-Gazette
Gannett Wisconsin Media
14 March 2008
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