If you look at my column in Thursday’s Journal Sentinel about wind turbines, you’ll notice one of the people I talked to is Larry Wunsch, who lives 1,100 feet from a turbine near Brownsville.
Wunsch was on the panel that the Public Service Commission assembled to advise it on wind turbine siting rules. The PSC was told by the Doyle administration to trump town and county rules on how far turbines should be from houses, and it picked a number, 1,250 feet, that wind advocates say is plenty far enough.
In fact, say advocates, the number is a compromise – tougher than they wanted but less than what wind farm critics sought. “A fair decision arrived at,” said Denise Bode, head of the American Wind Energy Association. The number was arrived at via an open process involving all kinds of stakeholders, she said.
It’s true that wind turbine critics wanted a farther setback – one figure that gets thrown around is a 2-kilometer setback, or more than 6,000 feet. But that the PSC’s figure is less than critics wanted and more than developers did proves nothing about the process that produced the PSC’s rule.
Was, in fact, the process fair? Not really, says Wunsch. For one thing, the PSC’s panel was heavy with advocates of wind, he notes. By law, it had to include two wind-farm developers, two utility representatives (utilities favor easier wind-farm siting), one university expert, one township official, one county official, two real estate reps (who generally want tighter limits), two wind-farm neighbors, and two members of the general public. In this case, one of the members of the public was a former Doyle functionary; the other was Jennifer Heinzen, who happened to be an offical with RENEW Wisconsin, a pro-wind group. It mean RENEW had two people on the council.
“A member of the public should be Joe down at the bait shop,” said Wunsch, and while you might think so, state law made no such specification.
As for whether the council did much listening, again, Wunsch contends it didn’t. He contends he tried playing recordings he made outside his home of turbine sounds – along with sound-meter readings of between 50 and 60 decibels – and was turned down. He says he later suggested just playing an hour of turbine noise he recorded in his backyard during the proceedings as a show of what neighbors endure. “I was told by chair that I could not do that. Any experiment I tried to bring to them they weren’t interested.”
Obviously, a majority of the council disagreed with Wunsch, but that doesn’t lessen the fact that, however lawful and public the process, the neighbors of wind farms felt they weren’t consulted so much as outnumbered and trumped.
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