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State lawmakers deny proposal for new wind energy regulations

To the dismay of wind energy advocates, a state legislative committee suspended enacting a rule that would have implemented statewide wind energy production regulations.

The rule would have standardized regulations concerning the construction of wind turbines in the state of Wisconsin. It also included regulations to address issues like noise level and shadow flicker.

Another part of the rule would mandate setback distances between turbines and adjacent, non-participatory properties to equal three times the maximum length of the turbine blade – roughly 1,250 feet. Turbines would only have to be one blade length away from the property hosting it.

Republicans on the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules said they voted against the rule in the interest of citizen health and well-being.

“The purpose of this hearing was not about whether wind is effective but whether this rule by the PSC was reasonable or not. We are trying to balance the needs of industry workers and health-concerned citizens,” JCRAR co-chair Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, said. “The biggest issue we heard came from testifiers at the hearing that 1,250 ft. is too close and will result in shadow flicker and noise issues. The health issue from testimony was the determining factor in my vote.”

Although the vote to suspend the wind-siting rule pleased many homeowners living near turbines, it upset wind energy activists. Those who were in support of the rule believed it would have provided a boom to the economy and help create jobs.

“Creating uniform regulations for the state of Wisconsin would have brought hundreds, if not thousands, of job opportunities to the state,” Clean Wisconsin Program Director Amber Meyer Smith said. “With the return to local regulation we have jeopardized at least eleven prospective clean energy projects.”

Not only did advocates claim Wisconsin would lose jobs, but many also said they feared Wisconsin’s wind industry would move to surrounding states.

Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, echoed concerns that the committee’s vote to suspend the rule was a major setback for the wind industry.

“We have developers of alternative energy – in this case wind – that have been given a kick to the gut. These folks who were going to create jobs are now going to have to go to different states,” Hebl said. “Not only would this have created hundreds of jobs, they would have been green jobs. It would have been a win-win.”

The rule would have become effective March 1, but the JCRAR chose to have another hearing to suspend the wind-siting rule after a long and passionate hearing on the rule Feb. 9.

“We heard nearly nine hours of testimony during February’s hearing,” Ott said. “Based on the testimony – some pro and a lot of con – we decided to hold a motion to suspend the rule. This is a situation where the legislature is exercising its oversight of a public agency.”

The committee voted 5-2 along party lines. The committee normally has ten voting members, but two of the 14 Democratic senators in Illinois to prevent a vote on the budget repair bill did not attend, and one Republican was on leave for unknown reasons.