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Wind farm siting rules up in the air

MADISON – Less than a month before new rules are set to go into effect, the state Legislature is reopening the debate over wind farm regulations and casting a shadow over the industry’s future in Wisconsin.

The Legislature’s joint rules committee heard more than seven hours of testimony Wednesday from both supporters and opponents of Wisconsin’s wind siting regulations, which are official March 1.

The regulations, developed by the state Public Service Commission, were debated for nearly two years before a bipartisan group of lawmakers approved them in December. But last month Gov. Scott Walker proposed legislation to dramatically increase the distance between homes and wind turbines. The measure failed, but ultimately led lawmakers to revisit the rules.

“This isn’t about shutting down the wind industry, it’s

about protecting homeowners,” said Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, testifying before the committee Wednesday. “I urge you to send this back and do some more work on it.”

The new rules require wind turbines have a setback from the nearest property line of 1.1 times the height of the turbine, or roughly 450 feet. The turbines also are required to have a setback of 1,250 feet from a home.

Walker’s provision would push the setback from the property line – not just a house – to 1,800 feet (about six football fields), a distance industry experts say is unheard of in other states.

The Legislature does not seem enamored with that proposal, but lawmakers do seem willing to revisit – and possibly tweak – the rules.

Committee Co-chairwoman Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, said Wednesday the committee could vote to suspend all or part of the existing legislation. Work would then have to begin on a new set of rules. Vukmir said the committee would not make that decision for a few days. “We have stacks of testimony to go through,” she said.

Wind industry representatives at the meeting Wednesday said reopening the issue is causing chaos among companies with projects in play. “This is hitting everyone hard,” said Jeff Anthony, business director for American Wind Energy Association.

Anthony said about a dozen projects are in limbo, waiting for lawmakers to work the issue out. He said that if officials decide to go with Walker’s proposal, it will have dire consequences for the industry.

But George Krause, a Manitowoc real estate agent, said the situation for homeowners is equally dire. He said wind turbines hurt property values and asked the committee to send the rules back to the drawing board. “It’s that serious,” he said.