Officials with Emerging Energies of Wisconsin LLC, the company seeking to build a wind farm in northeastern St. Croix County, are attempting to reach out to the public more to explain their proposed project and address people’s concerns.
Jay Mundinger, founding principal of the company, and Roger Putnam, communications consultant, were in the area on Monday and Tuesday to meet with media representatives and Town of Forest landowners to discuss the project and answer any nagging questions.
Putnam said the company has enhanced its communications strategy after determining that previous efforts may not have worked as well as they’d hoped.
“It’s a redoubling of our efforts,” he said. “We think we can do a better job.”
If the wind project gains state approval, Mundinger said Emerging Energies will be a “neighbor” and wants to work with local residents, public officials and local businesses.
He noted that anyone with questions is invited to contact the company and get answers. Company officials are also willing to meet with anyone who has concerns about health, safety and other topics related to wind farms, Mundinger said.
Mundinger said people have legitimate concerns as it relates to the large turbines that will be a part of the project, but many of the concerns can be addressed or minimized through planning and negotiations.
As an example, homeowners worried about the shadow of a turbine landing on their home can work with the company to work out the placement of a turbine. The placement of trees, shrubs and quality window dressings can make a difference too, Mundinger said.
“We can work to minimize the impact,” he said. “We can figure those things out.”
Concerns about excessive noise generated by turbines might be addressed by tours of existing wind farms, he added. Mundinger claims the turbines do not emit excessive noise and a first-hand tour might help prove that fact.
As Emerging Energies finished its application with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, Mundinger said he wants local residents to know that the company is committed to working with individuals and local governments to make the project a valuable part of the community.
Mundinger said he will continue to attend Forest Town Board meetings to update everyone on the project’s progress and to answer questions.
“We want to be as open as we can to make sure all the concerns are dealt with properly,” he said.
The $250 million Highland Wind Project was first proposed about four years ago, when Emerging Energies of Wisconsin LLC approached the Town of Forest in northeast St. Croix County about its idea to install about 40 wind turbines on various properties. Studies of wind in the area proved that the region is well suited for the generation of wind energy. Average wind speeds in the town are about 16 to 17 mph, which is sufficient to turn a large turbine and thus generate electricity.
Since completion of the study, the company worked quickly to gain the necessary agreements, easements and approvals.
The project came to a screeching halt, however, when some township residents objected to having the large turbines scattered throughout the municipality. Some claimed the turbines posed a health risk, while others didn’t want the rural atmosphere of Forest to be compromised.
Opponents of the wind turbine idea banded together to force a recall of the Forest Town Board, which had approved driveway permits and signed a development agreement with Emerging Energies to move the project closer to completion.
In the end, the entire board was kicked out of office. The new board moved to rescind the previous wind farm agreements, claiming that previous meetings related to the Highland Wind Project were improperly noticed and failed to meet state laws guidelines for open meetings. They also claimed that previous board members voted on the agreements, despite having an alleged financial interest in the project or being related to someone with a financial interest in the wind farm concept.
Officials with the Highland Wind Project have now applied to the Public Service Commission for a slightly larger wind farm. Because of its size, the project (41 turbines generating 102.5 megawatts of electricity) requires state approval and bypasses township oversight.
Emerging Energies recently received correspondence from the PSC that its application needs further details before the commission will take it under consideration. The PSC asked for clarification or additional information on 60 different items.
The PSC retains siting jurisdiction over the HWF project. Although siting regulations approved by the PSC earlier this year have been suspended by the Legislature, the PSC will at least need to consider if the application is consistent with the suspended rules.
The PSC welcomes public comment on the project once it determines the application complete. The application has been posted to the PSC’s website: psc.wi.gov. The HWF docket number: 2535-CE-100.