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Walker still pushing windmill regulations

State lawmakers will not hear a controversial bill being pushed by Gov. Scott Walker that would set restrictive standards on wind energy development in Wisconsin, causing some to suspect friction within the Republican caucus

The new bill would require any new wind turbine to be built at least 1,800 feet from the nearest property line. A state Senate committee heard the bill last month and decided not to put it on the schedule.
Opponents label it as a job killer, while Walker spokesperson Cullen Werwie says it may remain a part of Walker’s wind farm policy. Current law signed by Former Gov. Jim Doyle requires turbines to be constructed at least 1,250 feet from the nearest structure.

“It would eliminate the wind industry in Wisconsin,” said Ben Tobias, spokesperson for Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison. “The bill is dead as is stands.”

Gov. Scott Walker’s spokesperson, Cullen Werwie, confirmed the bill would not move forward immediately but said Walker is expected to move forward with his wind farm reform policies in the near future.

Werwie said the Legislature wanted to take more of a look at the policies contained in the bill, particularly the set-back rules.

Some Democrats said the bill divided the Republican caucus, which has passed every one of Walker’s bills thus far.

Wind energy proponents said the bill was too restrictive.

Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, said Walker’s proposal is the most extreme statewide rule he has ever seen.

Requiring additional space between the turbine and the nearest property line, instead of the closest structure, would reduce available space for other projects to be constructed, Vickerman said.

RENEW Wisconsin estimates if turbine projects in progress would have to stop construction because of Walker’s bill, nearly $1.8 billion in investments, 2 million construction job hours and more than 700 megawatts of wind power capacity would be lost.

Wisconsin construction companies can try to bid out of state, Vickerman said, but the location of the job site particularly matters with the heavy equipment involved.

Companies will lose out if they are forced to look outside Wisconsin’s borders for work, he said.

Although the Legislature decided not to hear the bill, Werwie said Walker is not giving up, and there is a need to balance the rights of private property owners with those who choose to construct wind turbines.

In a public hearing, Werwie said he expects the Legislature to review the current policy, strip it down and modify it to more closely reflect Walker’s bill.

The public hearing for the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules is scheduled for Wednesday morning.