MADISON – Wisconsin’s Legislature will not take up Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to toughen wind turbine regulations during a special session the governor called to pass that bill and others, spokesman for legislative leaders told The Associated Press on Thursday.
However, the demise of the bill seeking a law change doesn’t mean Walker is giving up on the issue. The governor’s spokesman, Cullen Werwie, said Thursday that he instead will work with lawmakers to achieve the goals of the measure through a change to Public Service Commission rules instead of a new law.
A meeting of a legislative committee that could make the rule change was announced late Thursday afternoon for Wednesday morning.
“Clearly the Republicans’ assault on wind energy is not dead,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, in a statement. He accused Republicans of protecting themselves from voting on the bill by “manipulating the administrative rules process.”
Currently, turbines must be built at least 1,250 feet from nearby homes. Walker wants to push that back to at least 1,800 feet away.
Walker, a Republican, has worked incredibly closely and well with the Republican-controlled Legislature. But that strong relationship wasn’t enough to rescue the wind bill, which drew vociferous opposition from those in the industry who said it would constitute the greatest regulatory barrier in the country.
The wind bill is dead for now, but might be revived later in the session, said Chris Reader, chief of staff for Sen. Rich Zipperer, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that had the bill.
“It’s just an issue the Legislature wants to take a longer, more thoughtful look at,” said Andrew Welhouse, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. “We don’t have any immediate plans to move the special session bill, but the issue certainly isn’t going anywhere.”
Welhouse said changing PSC rules to make the change was being considered, but there was no solid plan in place. The meeting next week was a public hearing on the issue, but no vote on any proposed rule change was planned.
Renew Wisconsin, which has tracked the growth of the state’s renewable sector, had said as much as $1.8 billion in investment may be at stake if every state wind farm now in the planning stage is halted.
Chicago-based Invenergy wants to build a 100-turbine wind farm in the southern Brown County towns of Morrison, Glenmore, Wrightstown and Holland.
Invenergy’s proposal called for the turbines to be set back 1,000 feet from homes or other structures such as schools and churches. A group of residents opposed to that project want the turbines set back 2,450 feet.
Denise Bode of the American Wind Energy Association said the requirement would have put a “closed for business” sign on Wisconsin for wind development.
Walker had argued his proposal would have benefited property owners. The idea had garnered support from the Wisconsin Realtors Association, which said it was needed to protect homeowners near wind turbines.
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