December 28, 2011

Wind farm proposal is first in 2 years; Commission gets application for St. Croix County project

Doug Schneider/Press-Gazette, Written by Clay Barbour, Wisconsin State Journal, 27 December 2011

MADISON – Developers have applied to the Public Service Commission for a permit to build a large new wind farm in western Wisconsin, the first application of its kind in more than two years.

Emerging Energies applied this month to build Highland Wind Farm, a 41-turbine, 102.5-megawatt project in the St. Croix County towns of Forest and Cylon, about 25 miles east of the Minnesota border.

The application comes as new wind siting rules remain in limbo in the PSC, with officials trying to broker a deal between the wind industry and its critics.

William Rakocy, a founding member of Hubertus-based Emerging Energies, said his company understands there still is some uncertainty surrounding Wisconsin’s wind energy regulations, but he feels confident about the project.

“I guess we would like to believe that more reasonable minds will prevail,” he said.

Wind farms have been a contentious issue in Northeastern Wisconsin.

A proposed 100-turbine wind farm polarized Morrison and other southern Brown County communities before Invenergy LLC in March withdrew its plans to seek permits to develop the project. The company cited the state’s lack of siting guidelines in pulling the proposal, which would have put 54 turbines in Morrison and others in Glenmore, Holland and Wrightstown.

Residents around the hamlet of Shirley have complained that a smaller wind development there has reduced their property values, and has caused health problems for some people. The development’s owner insists that the wind farm complies with all laws.

Those concerns have prompted elected officials to be involved. State Sen. Frank Lasee, R-Ledgeview, this fall proposed a statewide ban on turbine construction until the state is in possession of a report that assures that they are safe.

Brown County Supervisor Patrick Evans last week called for the County Board to support the Wisconsin Citizens Safe Wind Siting Guidelines, a proposal that would establish limits for audible and low-frequency sound emissions, and set penalties for certain violations. A county committee will consider that request in January.

The new wind siting rules, more than a year in the making, were suspended just before going into effect in March. Those rules required wind turbines have a setback from the nearest property line of 1.1 times the height of the turbine, or roughly 450 feet. The rules also required turbines be no closer than 1,250 feet from the nearest residence.

Gov. Scott Walker proposed changes to those rules, pushing the setback from the property line – not just a dwelling – to 1,800 feet, or about a third of a mile. That legislation did not pass but did lead Republicans to ask the PSC to negotiate a new deal.

Those rules are for projects under 100 megawatts. The Highland project is larger and does not specifically fall under the rules under debate. But state law requires PSC officials to consider the yet-to-be approved rules when considering projects of greater than 100 megawatts.

This is only the beginning of the process, and the PSC has 30 days to determine if the application is complete. The agency has up to 360 days to make a decision.

Dan Rustowicz of Minnesota’s Redwind Consulting, a wind farm builder, said he is glad to hear about the application.

“That is a really good sign,” he said. “But we still need to get these rules resolved. Clarity is powerful.”

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