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Wind farms on hold

Proponents of two proposed Grant County, Wis., wind farms wonder what’s next after Republican lawmakers suspended statewide wind farm siting rules Tuesday – the day they were set to take effect.

The Joint Committee for Review of Administration Rules voted 5-2, along party lines, to suspend the rules for 30 days.

The state Public Service Commission’s standards, which would have applied to projects less than 100 megawatts in generating capacity, would create uniform guidelines for where wind farms could be built. The committee’s vote means local regulations would remain in place.

The commission’s new rules would have allowed development of the proposed White Oak wind project by Wind Capital Group on parts of Smelser, Hazel Green and Paris townships, a project on hold for more than two years. Another wind project was planned for northern Grant County.

Ron Brisbois, director of Grant County Economic Development Corp., said Tuesday’s vote would “effectively deter wind farms throughout the state of Wisconsin.”

Republicans who took control of the Legislature in November said they were worried the rules would allow developers to build turbines too close to neighbors’ properties, driving down land values and increasing the risk of injury.

“I communicated with members of the committee, as well to our local representatives, (State) Senator (Dale) Schultz and (State Rep.) Travis Tranel,” Brisbois said. “My message to them was, if they do basically what (the committee) did, it will effectively kill my project. There is some hope moving forward is possible, but it’s highly unlikely.”

The committee must draft a bill supporting the suspension. It has drafted a measure that would require the commission to develop new rules within six months.

The vote disappointed John Beinborn, president of Grant County Economic Development Corp.

“We’ll have to go back, find out what the exact ruling will be and then see if we can proceed from there,” he said.

Beinborn said participating townships and Grant County would have received revenue from the wind projects. Participating landowners would have received revenue from turbine leases.

“In light of all the budget cuts we have coming, it’s a big time setback at this point,” he said. “We thought we had some chance for economic growth in Wisconsin.”

Those in favor of the statewide rules, including Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide renewable-energy advocacy group, said jobs would have been created.

“The committee gave the state of Wisconsin a black eye that, in the view of the wind industry, will linger well into the future,” he said. “The suspension rolls the wind-permitting environment back to the dark days when wind project developers routinely faced arbitrary and ever-shifting local regulations – the kind of chaos that will hasten their departure from Wisconsin to more business-friendly states.”

Vickerman cited figures compiled by RENEW that show the 219 utility-owned wind turbines that will be operational by Jan. 1, 2012, will yield nearly $2.7 million per year in potential property tax relief for towns and counties hosting wind projects. He said the projects will be responsible for nearly 300,000 construction-related job hours.

The committee’s vote did have its supporters, including State Rep. Andre Jacque, R-Bellevue.

“I have heard from hundreds of my constituents who would be adversely affected by this rule,” he said. “I wholeheartedly agree with the committee members’ conclusion that the standards set forth in PSC 128 are arbitrary, capricious and present undue hardship for neighboring property owners.”

The Associated Press contributed