Emerging Energies of Wisconsin LLC has filed an application with Wisconsin utility regulators seeking to construct a 102.5-MW wind project, despite suspended wind siting rules that have roiled the state’s wind industry.
The application comes at a time when state rules for wind power remain in limbo, following the March decision by a Wisconsin legislative committee to suspend wind farm siting rules as they were set to go into effect. The rules had been approved by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission after years of negotiations.
Leading up to the suspension, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had proposed an “overhaul” of the state’s wind energy siting rules that would have moved the setback distance for wind farms to at least 1,800 feet unless property owners agreed in writing, but the wind energy industry and its supporters objected, saying it would slow down development in the state.
After suspending the rules, the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules asked the PSC to see if a new agreement could be reached on the issue, but so far no proposal has been issued. If no agreement is reached by mid-March, the original rules would go into effect.
The situation since the suspension has been a political stalemate, with some developers – including Midwest Wind Energy LLC and Invenergy LLC – shelving projects citing regulatory uncertainty. Bills have been introduced to develop new rules, but so far no bills have moved forward.
“The PSC has been working with legislators, realtors and different groups,” PSC spokesman Matt Pagel told SNL Energy, adding that there is no formal rule process under way. “We are seeing if we can bridge the gap.”
Project boosted to 100 MW to move it under PSC’s authority
Emerging Energies of Wisconsin, in its application, said it is now filing for a certificate of public convenience and necessity “based on developments with the town of Forest,” which would host the majority of the project.
Specifically, the developer said that although 40 permits were issued by the town of Forest in February, a subsequent recall election resulted in a new town board that passed a new wind ordinance that sought to block the project.
Emerging Energies said it believes its permits remain valid, but William Rakocy, a founding member of Emerging Energies, said the company is increasing the size of the project from 97.5 MW to more than 100 MW in order to bring it under the PSC’s authority.
In an interview, Rakocy stressed that the application for the proposed Highland project also has setbacks of 1,250 feet from “non-participating residences,” a standard that has previously gained approval by the PSC.
“We have used that as a basis as we have developed our project; we honored that conservative guideline,” Rakocy said. “I suspect that perhaps the other developers (who suspended projects) had been working with the more typical 1,000-foot setback that had previously been used in the state, and so our belief is that as we move to the more conservative guideline of 1,250, that we have a respectable project here.”
Exactly how the PSC’s process will work, however, is not clear. The PSC’s process is not directly regulated by the previously approved local wind siting rules, but it said in a statement that it is statutorily required to consider whether an installation is consistent with its standards.
That means “the commission will need to at least consider whether the application is consistent with the standards in the promulgated, yet suspended, PSC 128 rules,” the PSC said in a Dec. 19 statement.
The Highland Wind Farm project would be in western Wisconsin in the northeast corner of St. Croix County. The farm’s facilities would be predominantly in Forest, Wis., with the exception of a substation and associated transmission to be constructed in Cylon, Wis.
As proposed the project consists of 41 turbines, with 52 possible turbine sites to choose from. The developer said in filings that it is in communication with several utilities and investors, but that no power purchase agreement is in place for the project. The power would likely be sold to one or more public, municipal or cooperatively owned utilities.
“It is probably going to take six months to a year for us to get any kind of a decision,” Rakocy said. “We don’t expect to be building until late in 2012 or 2013 and at that point in time we suspect that the needs and demands of our society and our state are probably going to change from where they are today and hopefully get better.”
The PSC has 30 days to determine whether the application is complete and 360 days to make a decision. (Docket No. 2535-CE-100)
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