A wind energy firm planning to develop turbine fields in Calumet County says it is no longer going through local regulation to get the project approved.
Instead, Curt Bjulin, Wisconsin project manager for EcoEnergy, said his firm is seeking approval from the state Public Service Commission for the project in the towns of Chilton and Rantoul.
This is the latest salvo in a battle that’s gone on for nearly two years between wind farm developers and Calumet County residents who fear the effects dozens of 400-foot turbines will have on neighbors’ lives and health.
“We have had 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.”
A spokesman for one of the opposition groups that formed in Calumet County said Friday he fears the PSC will offer residents less protection than the county’s ordinance.
“The PSC would be using a cookie-cutter approach to this thing,” Town of Chilton resident Lee Bjork said.
Bjork and his contemporaries are increasingly frustrated with the lack of leverage they seem to have, compared with the turbine developers.
They turned out in force last week to oppose a bill before the Legislature that would have given the PSC approval authority over all wind farm developments in Wisconsin. The Senate withdrew the bill, but to Bjork it seemed a rare victory.
“Nobody holds their feet to the fire,” he said. “Nobody questions them. Nobody asks, ‘Can you guarantee the sound won’t exceed 40 (decibels)? Can you guarantee property values won’t go down?'”
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 wind energy facility in Calumet County will cost $220 million and predictability is very important with that kind of investment,” he said.
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 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 (megawatts) number now,” Bjulin said.
That also means that the project would no longer be subject to local regulation.
Wind energy legislation
The pending legislation that died would have given the PSC exclusive jurisdiction over the siting of wind energy turbines.
“We voted and there was an amendment to have a citizens review committee, much like the farm siting bill,” said state Sen. Alan Lasee, R-Rockland.
Because of the proposed amendment, Lasee said the proposal – in the form of Senate Bill 544 – was sent back to committee, effectively killing it for this year.
“It will be back next session,” said state 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 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 eventually will 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.
By Ed Byrne
Gannett Wisconsin Media
15 March 2008
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