March 1, 2011

That other Capitol controversy: wind siting tussle returns

By Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel, 28 February 2011

Gov. Scott Walker’s property-rights bill to restrict wind farm development got plenty of attention in his first few weeks in office, then fell off the radar screen amid the nearly two-week-old battle over public-employee collective bargaining.

The controversy over renewable energy returns Tuesday, the same day that Walker will introduce his proposed 2011-’13 budget.

Statewide standards for siting wind power projects adopted last year by the state Public Service Commission may be blocked from taking effect. The state Legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules has scheduled an executive session for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in Madison.

The meeting is scheduled for the same day that the new rules were scheduled to take effect.

The action follows a February hearing where critics of wind farm siting and the PSC raised concerns about the rule, and supporters of wind power urged the Legislature to allow the new rule to take effect.

In a statement Monday, senior policy director Keith Reopelle at the environmental group Clean Wisconsin said the committee is expected to vote to suspend the new rule.

“The previous legislature recognized that a patchwork of local regulations stood in the way of the development of safe wind farms in the state, and legislators on both sides of the aisle worked together to pass Wisconsin Act 40,” he said. “Suspending the wind siting rule will be the first step in repealing this law and will send a clear message to wind developers that they are not welcome in Wisconsin.”

The move to suspend the rule comes after legislative leaders refused to schedule a vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s wind siting bill, which would have required wind turbines to be located 1,800 feet from the nearest property line. It was the first bill proposed by the new governor during its special session that didn’t pass the state Assembly.

The Walker measure was supported by the Wisconsin Realtors Association, the Wisconsin Towns Association and the Wisconsin Builders Association, but opposed by the state’s largest business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

Others in opposition to the Walker bill include the American Wind Energy Association and companies involved in wind development and the wind components manufacturing. The bill was so restrictive that it threatened to stall $500 million in investment in the state by the end of next year.

The PSC rule would have applied to small wind farms across the state – those under 100 megawatts, while the governor’s bill would apply to all projects, including those that have received permits but have not yet started construction.

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