The eight wind turbines being built in the town of Glenmore would never have been allowed if they had to comply with the siting rules newly approved by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, a state wind energy expert said.
“That project would be almost impossible to situate in Wisconsin” under the PSC guidelines, said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a Madison nonprofit group that promotes clean energy. “Those will be the tallest and largest wind turbines in the state.”
CH Shirley Wind LLC has begun construction of a 20-megawatt wind facility that includes a 20-year power purchase contract with Wisconsin Public Service Corp. The company said last year that it was investing $50 million in the project.
The PSC on Monday adopted rules for projects that produce less than 100 megawatts of power, but the Shirley Wind project, with 492-foot-high turbines, can proceed under the grandfather clause.
Those rules include stringent limits on where turbines can be placed on someone’s property, using a formula based on the height of the turbines and their distance from residences, property lines, public roads and overhead electric transmission lines.
Vickerman praised the PSC for adopting what he called “the strongest statewide rules of any place in the nation. If you look at the rules as a layer of different conditions, the sum total result in a very stringent list of requirements. You won’t find that in Ohio or Minnesota.”
In addition to the setback limits, the PSC put limits on shadow flickers and noise levels. It also gave local governments the authority to require wind energy system owners to compensate property owners located within one-half mile of a wind turbine site who don’t have turbines on their land.
It remains to be seen what impact the new rules will have on the proposed Ledge Wind Project planned by Invenergy LLC in the towns of Morrison, Glenmore, Holland and Wrightstown in southern Brown County. The company wants to build 100 wind turbines exceeding 100 megawatts, which puts it outside the scope of the new rules.
Ed Marion is a Madison-based attorney who has been hired by the Brown County Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy – a nonprofit composed of local residents and led by a board of directors – which opposes the southern Brown County wind farm proposal.
Marion said he expects the company to soon re-file its application for the Ledge Wind development with the additional knowledge of the PSC rules for smaller projects.
“I think everybody had to wait to see what the rules looked like,” Marion said. “Even if (the rules) don’t apply, they are influential.”
The PSC rules still can be altered by the state Legislature although changes from elected officials aren’t expected.
Invenergy officials are taking a cautious approach.
“Wisconsin’s wind siting rules and standards remain in flux as the Legislature and regulators work out the details,” said Kevin Parzyck, project manager for the Ledge Wind Farm. “Meanwhile, we continue to evaluate updating our Ledge Wind Farm permit application to the Public Service Commission.”
The PSC staff will review the revised Invenergy application. If it is complete, it will be sent to the commission, which will have six months to act on it. A hearing will be scheduled.
“We’ve requested to intervene as a party,” said Marion, speaking of Brown County group opposed to the wind farm development.
The PSC’s decision in January to approve the Glacier Hills wind farm project in Columbia County will probably have a greater impact on the Invenergy application because it is also more than 100 megawatts.
The 90-turbine wind farm is owned by the Wisconsin Electric Power Company and includes 90 turbines. Construction began this spring.
“We’ll probably see elements of the (new) rules incorporated in whatever order the commission issues, but the commission is not compelled to,” he said. “The rule does not forbid the agency from taking a stand and applying it to all projects.”
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