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Lawmakers’ debate over wind turbines isn’t over

New rules about wind turbines are set to go into effect at the start of the new year.

Thursday is the last day state lawmakers could try to block the changes. A vote was scheduled for Thursday but late Wednesday afternoon the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee told Action 2 News that won’t happen.

One of the most talked-about proposals from the Public Service Commission is how far turbines must be placed from neighboring homes.

Right now it’s based on an equation. For example, if a 450-foot turbine were put up on a property, the equation determines it would have to be 1,395 feet away from the nearest home. Under the new regulation, the distance would be capped at 1,250 feet.

The commission also proposes changing how much residents living close to turbines could be paid, which could be higher or lower than before.

While some state lawmakers applaud these changes, others have spent the past week trying to halt them and now vow to continue the fight in January.

The outgoing chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, who scheduled then canceled Thursday’s vote, tells Action 2 News each side will try to work out its differences when the next legislative session starts.

In the meantime, it appears the new regulations will go into effect January 1st.

We found at least five state lawmakers wrote letters to chairs of the Senate and Assembly energy committees, asking for a vote which could have halted the changes. But both outgoing chairs tell Action 2 News those votes won’t happen by Thursday’s deadline.

“Sometimes at hearings the people that do the voting on the committee, it’s not that we don’t hear the concerns, it’s that we don’t agree with the concerns, and that’s the case for myself,” Representative Jim Soletski (D-Green Bay), chairman of the Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities, said.

In a statement, a spokesperson says the Public Service Commission “made modifications that, in its judgment, result in a more workable rule and make it more likely the rule will pass legislative scrutiny.”

“How it happened? I guess they didn’t care,” Senator Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) said.

Senator Cowles led the effort this past week to stop the changes.

“We didn’t get any changes that made us happy. It got worse, in fact,” Senator Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) said.

Senator Cowles wants the setback much higher, between 1,800 and 2,000 feet, because of noise concerns.

“It’s a little over four football fields. That’s nothing. These are large industrial turbines. Yes, we want alternative energy. No we don’t want them too close to homes,” Cowles said.

“There’s enough public comment on the other side, too,” Soletski said.

Soletski sees it differently than Cowles. He wishes turbines could be even closer to neighboring homes to increase their effectiveness.

“If you get a whole lot farther than 1,250 you’re going to make it economically implausible to build a wind farm,” Soletski said.

“We’ll try all aspects in order to get it done. We’re not saying no wind turbines, we’re saying get them far enough away from homes so you don’t disrupt people’s lives.”

Now Cowles and other opponents will turn to the next legislative session – an option that has no guarantees.