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Magnolia sets wind rules that PSC could blow past

Magnolia has an ordinance for wind farm development, but that might do little to stop such growth in the town.

That’s why town Supervisor David Olsen said officials opted for a noncontroversial ordinance that should bode well for them if legal issues ever arise.

“We picked a half-mile setback distance because we felt it was very minimal standard,” he said. “It’s easily defendable, and we felt that if we ever had to fight a suit from a developer about it, we’d easily win.”

It’s a fair thought, said Tim Le Monds, governmental and public affairs director for the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

“That’s a pretty safe distance,” he said. “It’s acceptable to us.”

But the ordinance might not mean much to a 7,000- to 8,000-acre wind farm development proposed on the border of Magnolia by EcoEnergy Engineering LLC of Elgin, Ill. The PSC might get to make that call.

EcoEnergy’s tentative plans call for a wind farm to produce more than 100 megawatts of energy. Its proposed size means the PSC would have final say as to whether the farm will be built.

Last month, town Chairwoman Fern McCoy admitted establishing an ordinance might be in vain, but Town Attorney Glenn Reynolds disagreed.

“You can’t guarantee the PSC will do this, that or the other thing,” he said. “The town has the right to act on behalf of its residents for health and safety, and it did.”

But what’s to come has yet to be confirmed.

EcoEnergy wind engineer Alex DePillis said the company hasn’t given information on location or size of its proposed farm because it’s still early in the planning process.

“We’re only really still collecting wind data in the area,” he said.

And DePillis said EcoEnergy will not overlook public opinion.

“Local approval is important to us,” he said. “It’s informed by who we are and what we do.”

State approval and acquiring land with good wind also are important to the company. Magnolia has the wind resources and the state has a goal to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2025.

Neither DePillis nor Le Monds would say at what point public opinion is cast aside for bigger state and energy interests, but Le Monds said the decision ultimately rests with the PSC.

“We have the authority to approve, modify or deny any project,” he said. “We try to strike a fair balance and do what will have the least amount of impact on the owners.”

Le Monds said residents are allowed multiple opportunities to comment on projects that might affect them, yet Renolds pointed out “towns don’t have the power to prohibit (wind projects).”

Paul Snyder ,

The Daily Reporter

8 July 2008