December 16, 2010

Windy debate

Milwaukee News Buzz, 15 December 2010

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has revised its proposed setback rules for wind turbines in the state yet again. Debate over the rules raged this summer between agricultural, real estate and local government officials who sought larger setbacks and renewable energy groups and energy companies that wanted to limit them.

In 2009, the state Legislature passed a law requiring the turbine siting rules, which were part of Gov. Jim Doyle’s clean energy agenda. Proponents argued the law would prevent restrictive local laws that inhibit the development of renewable energy in the state. Local governments can adopt rules that are more permissive – but not more restrictive than the state ones.

The rules originally proposed by the PSC, guided by an advisory council that met this summer, were rejected by the State Senate Committee on Commerce Utilities, Energy and Rail on a 6-1 vote in late October. In a hearing before the committee, the Wisconsin Towns Association, the Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association pushed for changes to the rules.

In response to the committee’s rejection, the PSC adopted a few changes to the setback rules proposed by the Realtors Association – but stopped short of implementing all those the association suggested.

The Realtors Association asked the Commission to increase the minimum setback from homes from 1.1 times the height of the turbine to 3.1 times for residences that are “nonparticipating” – not receiving lease payments from the energy company that is installing the turbine. Many rural landowners receive payments from the companies to operate turbines on their property.

The PSC put a cap on the setback, however – it can’t be more than 1,250, about a quarter of a mile – a move praised by the clean energy group Renew Wisconsin. Executive Director Michael Vickerman said in a statement, “the rule would not impose economic burdens on wind developers seeking to install newer and larger wind turbines now available in the market.”

The Commission didn’t adopt the Association’s proposal that the setback for participating homes be increased from 1.1 times to 1.5 times.

The new setback requirements would only apply to medium and large-sized turbines. Small ones would face more relaxed rules.

If neither the Senate committee nor the Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities votes down the rules again, they take effect on Jan. 1.

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