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The fight over wind power

Industrial wind turbines are becoming more and more prevalent in Wisconsin. As of December 2010, there were 314 commercial turbines in the state, 209 of them in and around the district of state Sen. Frank Lasee, R-DePere. But Lasee does not think those turbines will necessarily have a positive impact on Wisconsin.

He proposed stricter regulations on wind turbines in Wisconsin’s legislature, citing potential health concerns when the turbines are installed too close to residences.

The “Health Studies for Wind Turbines” legislation would stop further wind energy system developments until the Department of Health Services finishes a study analyzing health impacts of turbines and UW scientist review the results.

After the DHS study is deemed scientifically sound, the Public Service Commission, the state agency that oversees utility use, would take action to restrict where industrial turbines can be built in relation to existing developments.

“We thought it was important to make sure that we know what the safe set-back distance for these wind turbines was before the PSC set new standards for the set-back distances,” said Rob Kovach, Lasee’s chief of staff.

Kovach said Lasee is not “anti-wind” energy and cited two existing studies that suggest industrial turbines can cause a number of health problems including sleep disturbance, headache, nausea, and depression.

Other studies pertaining to adverse health effects of industrial turbines are being pursued across the country and in Canada.

But Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a non-profit organization that promotes sustainable energy policies, questioned the science and motives behind Lasee’s proposal.

“We haven’t seen any studies that go through the usual peer review process. You get allegations from one or two individuals, but in reality that’s a very tiny minority.” Vickerman said.

Lasee, however, said turbines can pose a threat.

“There are three families that I am aware of who have moved out of their homes to get relief because they are getting so ill,” Lasee said in statement. “One family’s teenage daughter was hospitalized, and when they moved, she fully recovered.”

“We can’t let this kind of a thing go on,” Lasee said.

Additionally, the Wisconsin Realtor’s Association has opposed industrial turbine development. Lasee is a real estate broker, and is not currently a member of the association, but a spokesperson for the group declined to say if he ever was.

“I think that’s what’s really behind all this,” Vickerman said.

Earlier this year, Gov. Scott Walker proposed a bill that would have significantly pushed back the distance that turbines could be placed from homes.

Current standards for industrial turbines hold that they cannot be built within 1,250 feet of a home, while Walker’s proposal would have required turbines to be 1,800 feet from property lines, a distance not seen in other states. Lasee supported the proposal, which never reached a vote.

“Lots of people were opposed to it because it would have wreaked lasting damage to the state’s economy,” Vickerman said. “I don’t think Walker quite understood how valuable wind energy was to the state’s economy, but he got a lesson there.”

But with Lasee’s proposal in the works, similar restrictions could be placed on the hundreds of turbines in Wisconsin, and new projects could come to a stop.