A proposal to build a wind farm in western Wisconsin is back despite the opposition of local government officials, who rescinded permits for the project and adopted a moratorium on wind projects.
The proposal from Emerging Energies of Wisconsin was filed with the state Public Service Commission. It’s the first proposal for a large wind farm filed with the state this year.
Hubertus-based Emerging Energies is seeking to build 41 turbines that would generate 102.5 megawatts of power in the Town of Forest in St. Croix County.
The state Public Service Commission has jurisdiction over large wind farms – any project with at least 100 megawatts – and will begin a review of the project.
A dispute over setbacks provided to wind energy projects has led to a stalemate for the wind industry on projects below 100 megawatts.
That stalemate resulted from protests over a statewide rule on wind siting developed last year by the PSC.
Wind opponents, including the Wisconsin Realtors Association, considered the proposal too restrictive on property rights. Last January, Gov. Scott Walker, who was backed by the Realtors in his election campaign against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, proposed a property rights bill that would require turbines to be located farther from nearby homes.
This fall, the governor’s office and PSC expressed interest in a compromise between wind developers and property rights advocates.
“The PSC is still trying to facilitate a compromise,” agency spokeswoman Kirsten Ruesch said.
No resolution is in sight, though.
Emerging Energies is trying to abide by standards set by the PSC when it approved We Energies’ Glacier Hills Wind Park northeast of Madison, developer Bill Rakocy said. That wind farm began operation last week.
The setback standard requires that turbines be at least 1,250 feet from nearby homes. Unlike Glacier Hills, the Emerging Energies project would not require any waivers to exempt certain turbines from the setback requirement.
Rakocy said his wind project has been in development since 2007.
“We believe that, given the economy we find ourselves in, Wisconsin needs this project to move forward from an economic standpoint and a jobs standpoint,” he said.
The developer is in talks with utilities that would buy the power, Rakocy said.
But local opposition to the project led to the formation of a citizens group, The Forest Voice, and subsequent recall of the entire three-member Forest Town Board earlier this year.
At that time, Emerging Energies was proposing to build four fewer turbines for a project that was under 100 megawatts.
The new town board voted at its first meeting in March to rescind building permits for the wind project and to impose a moratorium on wind power development.
Concerns about the project included the potential for having nearly 500-foot towers in the area.
As a result of the moratorium, the only way for Emerging Energies to build the project was to make it bigger. That triggers state agency review rather than local review.
The PSC has 360 days to rule on the project.
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