A legislative joint committee heard over nine hours of passionate testimony Wednesday from several hundred citizens and wind energy developers on a rule that would standardize the buffer distance between a wind turbine and surrounding structures across the state.
The Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules heard testimony on a wind siting rule proposed by the Public Services Commission. The rule specifies the restrictions a city, village, town or county could impose on wind energy systems. While wind developers mainly agreed with the PSC, a large portion of citizen testifiers opposed the rules, Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said.
“The majority of [testifiers] I’d say were people who didn’t want the rules,” Risser said. “When you get down to it, they didn’t want windmills.”
The rule would require turbine setback distances for non-participatory properties to equal three times the maximum length of the turbine blade. Turbines only have to be one blade length away from the property hosting it.
Most citizens testified the distances are not far enough away and have caused unwanted effects.
Joan Lagerman from Malone, located on the east side of Lake Winnebago, told the committee she had stories that realized the fears other testifiers brought up. Her son, an otherwise healthy 17-year-old, recorded systolic blood pressure as high as 160, which she attributes to the turbine near her house, she said.
Another man with three turbines near his property recalled coming home to take care of his wife who was sick with the flu. He returned at night expecting his wife to be resting in bed, but saw her writhing on the floor in the middle of the hallway squeezing blankets and pillows against her ears trying to dampen the sound from the turbines.
Other opponents of the rule spoke of developer’s “time-share hustling” property owners with 28-page contracts, persistent radio interference, deteriorating health of farm animals due to stray voltage and constant low frequency humming.
Hearing loss can occur with noise levels over 85 decibels, according to a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study. The PSC rule requires turbines to be no louder than 50 db, but one citizen in Fond du Lac County said he measured the turbine at a constant 63 db.
However direct the citizen testimony, Risser said the question the committee must ask in deciding whether to uphold, modify or suspend the PSC’s rule is what is best for the state, and there are people who feel very strongly the state should pursue wind energy and the jobs it would provide Wisconsin.
Chris Deschane, speaking on behalf of wind developer Michels Corporation located an hour northeast of Madison in Fond du Lac, said he supported the PSC rule and elaborated on the jobs that Michels could create if the committee voted in favor of the rule.
“For each 100 megawatts in Wisconsin, it will generate 125 immediate jobs that last for one or two years and several dozen recurring jobs,” Deschane said. “Each of these jobs are well compensated and we provide exceptional health benefits.”
Another developer, David Vander Leest of Prelude LLC Wind Farms, said if the rule is not passed and the setback distance between a wind turbine and the nearest structure is increased as a result, Wisconsin might as well give the wind industry of “time of death.”
Although Risser said both developers and citizens gave strong arguments, he suspects the committee would vote to suspend the rule sometime before March 1, when the rule would begin to take effect.
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