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Rules may change for wind farm sites; Legislature likely to ask PSC to create new set of guidelines

State energy regulators would be asked to go back to the drawing board to develop statewide rules governing wind power projects, under a bill to be considered this week.

The Legislature’s joint committee for review of administrative rules voted earlier this month to temporarily block a wind farm site rule developed by the state Public Service Commission.

But that action was only good for 30 days. To keep the rule from taking effect Friday, the committee will meet again Tuesday to consider a bill that would send the issue back to the PSC and direct the agency to develop revised guidelines within six months.

After the rule was suspended, Chicago wind energy developer Invenergy LLC dropped its plan to build a large wind farm near Green Bay.

Invenergy’s proposal would have included setbacks of 1,000 feet, which is less than the 1,250-foot minimum sought by the PSC in its rule. The PSC rule that’s been blocked from taking effect also would have provided specific noise and shadow flicker requirements for wind farm turbines.

A property rights bill introduced in January by Gov. Scott Walker and supported by wind farm opponents and the Wisconsin Realtors Association would restrict development unless a turbine is placed 1,800 feet from a neighbor’s property line.

That bill threatens to stall wind power development in the state but was welcomed by a citizens group that has fought the Invenergy proposal.

The Brown County Citizens for Responsible Energy said it was pleased that the Invenergy proposal was dropped. Group spokesman Steve Deslauriers said the 1,000-foot setbacks were “irresponsible” and would have harmed nearby homeowners.

The local group mobilized against the Invenergy Ledge Wind energy project, and residents near the Invenergy project were well represented at public hearings earlier this year on wind farm siting.

The property rights group is seeking an even stricter statewide standard than that sought by Walker – 2,640 feet, Deslauriers said.

“Our hope is that real world experience of existing wind project residents be heard and addressed in the new statewide wind siting rules,” he said.

Invenergy’s decision “will benefit the taxpayers and ratepayers of Wisconsin, as well as preserve the health, safety, and property values of those who would have been forced to live within the industrial turbine project,” the Brown County group said.

The organization said it “will continue to work vigilantly to prevent the irresponsible development of industrial wind projects.”

Supporters of wind energy development say the state of flux on wind rules will stall development, leading to a loss of jobs tied to wind turbine construction as well as revenue for host property owners and local governments.

The PSC rule would not have applied to large wind farms like Invenergy’s, although Walker’s bill would have. Utility observers expect the PSC to adopt consistent standards for all wind projects.

In its most recent wind farm decision, the PSC ruled that 1,250-foot setbacks be required for We Energies’ Glacier Hills Wind Park, now under construction in Columbia County.

Alissa Krinsky, Invenergy spokeswoman, declined to say whether the 1,250-foot setback imposed in the We Energies case would have been acceptable for the Brown County project.

Invenergy said last week it would increase its development efforts outside Wisconsin, in light of regulatory uncertainty here. At the same time, Invenergy said it planned to develop other in-state projects that “do not require as significant an investment during an unstable climate.”

Jeff Anthony, vice president of business development at the American Wind Energy Association, said he realized there was significant opposition to the Invenergy project, but he said the state’s regulatory climate likely proved to be “the last straw” for the Chicago firm.

“This is not rhetoric. This is real, in terms of lost opportunity for jobs and economic development in the state of Wisconsin,” he said.

Asked about the possibility of compromise, Anthony said wind developers already compromised during the drafting of the PSC rule. Along with the setbacks, the noise and shadow requirements set by the PSC “were going to be very tough rules to meet” but provided the industry a framework to proceed with projects, he said.