Wind energy developers and wind parts suppliers squared off against local residents concerned about the impact of wind turbines on their rural way of life at a legislative hearing in Madison Wednesday.
At issue is how close wind turbines should be built to nearby homes, and whether the state will enact rules so restrictive they create a chilling effect for investment in Wisconsin.
More than 100 people spoke during a hearing that lasted more than seven hours.
The Republican-controlled Legislature is considering whether to suspend a rule promulgated late last year by the state Public Service Commission that would set noise, shadow flicker and setback standards for any large wind farm built in Wisconsin.
Opponents of wind power raised question about the efficiency of Wisconsin’s wind resource and said the PSC rule sides too much with wind energy developers and didn’t give enough credence to concerns raised by people who live near turbines at wind farms already built in the state.
But supporters pointed to the development of specific noise and shadow flicker standards in the PSC rule that makes it among the most stringent statewide standard in the country, said Deborah Erwin, policy analyst at the PSC.
“There are a number of wind projects that are on hold waiting for these rules,” she said. “I am frequently contacted by local governments who are in a holding pattern who want to adopt ordinances consistent with these rules but are not sure what is going to happen at this point.”
Erwin said the noise and shadow flicker standards the PSC developed were instrumental in helping create a framework that allows wind development to proceed but without having the impact on nearby residents that some wind farms already built in the state have had.
The PSC rule was developed in a contentious process that included a series of public hearings and nearly 2,000 written comments provided to the agency.
Residents of rural Brown County, who have mobilized against a large wind energy project proposed by Invenergy of Chicago, said the setback requirements would be tantamount to a property taking.
“There are few long term jobs after the turbines are built, and the there will be no other development for years and years, no new homes or farm buildings, no industry, nothing,” said Theresa Lark of Holland. “This is not progress. It’s stunting the growth and development that our economy needs.”
But farmers who would host wind turbines want development to proceed.
“The landowners who are in position to host some of these wind turbines, they have some rights too,” said Edward Ritger, a lawyer who has helped negotiate agreements between farmers and wind developers.
“These landowners are interested in the possibility that they may be able to harvest some of the wind resource that’s on the land they work.”
A move to suspend the rule would send a message to wind developers to head to neighboring states to develop projects, said Jeff Anthony of the American Wind Energy Association.
“If Wisconsin is serious about economic development it must look to create a stable environment for wind development that does not exist today,” he said. “States that are truly open for business, like Iowa, Kansas and Texas, are reaping benefits of associated manufacturing jobs as well.”
The state employs at least 2,000 people in jobs tied to the wind industry and wind component manufacturing.
“With more projects and more manufacturing that can only add up,” Anthony said. “With chaos in project siting, it can only go down.”
But Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere) called on the Legislature to block the PSC rule from taking effect in March. He raised concerns about a project in Brownsville in Calumet County near Lake Winnebago that would erect 52 475-foot turbines in a 16-square-mile area.
“These people purchased their property, have a way of life and their property has value. It’s a beautiful area of the state and we’re talking about erecting 50 50-story buildings in an area that’s rural today,” he said.
The hearing followed a decision by legislative leaders not to pursue a property rights bill unveiled last month by Gov. Scott Walker during the special session focused on jobs.
That bill would have set an 1,800-foot setback from property lines for wind turbines. But wind developers said that would restrict wind development to the point that new projects would not be built in the state.
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