In the latest strike at wind energy in Wisconsin, Sen. Frank Lasee, R-DePere, is proposing legislation to allow local communities to set their own requirements for siting wind turbines instead of adhering to a statewide standard.
The measure would allow cities, towns or villages to establish their own rules regarding how close wind towers could be erected to homes or other structures.
“Local communities should be able to create their own rules for public safety,” Lasee said in a statement. “We shouldn’t leave it to bureaucrats in Madison to make these decisions that affect home values and people’s lives.”
Lasee’s bill could potentially clear the way for final implementation of controversial wind siting rules approved by the Public Service Commission in 2010.
Those new rules – PSC 128 – were put on hold by the Republican-controlled Legislature last March in response to complaints from some rural homeowners and real estate interests. PSC 128 says local governments cannot impose requirements that are more restrictive than the state’s wind siting rules.
Lasee’s bill would not completely supercede PSC 128. Rather, it would require the commission to also consider local ordinances when approving wind installations. The bill’s wording can be accessed here.
But green energy advocate Michael Vickerman of Renew Wisconsin says the bill opens the door for regulators to block smaller wind installations.
“This is a little more clever than a moratorium on wind power, which probably wouldn’t survive a legal challenge,” says Vickerman.
The PSC already has siting jurisdiction over wind energy systems that generate more than 100 megawatts of electricity and utility-owned wind energy systems of any size. PSC 128 was drafted to help settle disputes over smaller projects that were previously subject only to local ordinances.
Lasee says his bill is needed because he’s heard from “numerous Wisconsin residents” who have complained about recurring nausea, sleep loss, headaches, dizziness and vertigo from living near wind turbines.
“Having a statewide standard for the setback of these 500-feet tall wind turbines doesn’t take into account the local landscape,” Lasee maintains.
Vickerman counters that if health is a concern, then decisions on siting wind turbines should be based on the amount of sound coming from a project, not the distance from a home.
“This bill serves multiple interests,” says Vickerman, noting the support from private property advocates, real estate developers and those who simply don’t like green energy.
Rick Stadelman, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association, quickly came out in support of Lasee’s proposal.
“Local governments are responsible for protecting the public health and welfare of their communities,” he said in a statement. “Arbitrary state standards limiting setbacks and noise levels of wind turbines take away the authority of local officials to protect their community. One size does not fit all.”
The new proposal follows a series of reports criticizing the wind energy industry, which was just gaining a foothold in the state before the change in the governor’s office last year.
One report issued recently by Wisconsin wind energy opponents questions the jobs claims of green power backers. It uses data from Illinois to argue the number of jobs created has been wildly overstated.
Meanwhile, the wind power industry continues to push forward. Last month, Highland Wind Farm LLC filed an application to build a 102.5-megawatt wind project in St. Croix County.
Here is an updated map from Renew Wisconsin of proposed or operating wind energy sites.