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Sen. Schultz sides with Democrats against new wind farm rules bill

For the second time this week, Sen. Dale Schultz on Wednesday stood in the way of his party on a piece of environmental legislation.

An attempt to kill existing windmill siting rules – more than a year in the making – was beaten back with the help of the Richland Center Republican, who earlier in the week sided with Democrats to defeat a controversial mining bill.

The measure, authored by Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, would have repealed a set of rules currently stuck in the state Public Service Commission, where officials have worked unsuccessfully to reach a compromise between wind industry supporters and their critics.

Those rules were suspended by the Republican-led state budget committee just before going into effect last March. They will again go into effect as written March 15, the last day of the current legislative session, unless lawmakers repeal or change them.

The location of windmills has been a controversial issue in the state. Critics of the industry contend the energy generators hurt property values and can lead to health problems.

Officials wanted a new set of uniform statewide rules that would give the wind industry some consistency across Wisconsin, rather than a patchwork of rules that changed with every municipality.

The rules in the PSC require wind turbines have a setback from the nearest property line of 1.1 times the height of the turbine, or roughly 450 feet for an average windmill. The rules also require turbines be at least 1,250 feet away from the nearest residence.

Lasee, a longtime critic of the statewide rules, said that distance is not far enough from people’s homes. “We should get past this ‘green energy no matter the cost’ thinking,” he said.

He said “Democrats and Schultz” killed his bill. On Wednesday, Schultz said he was sympathetic to Lasee’s concerns but had to vote against the measure.

“We have industries in this state that need stability from a state policy on renewable energies,” Schultz said. “I don’t have a problem with a study into the possible effects of wind energy, but this would have thrown us into limbo again.”

Lasee’s bill was sent back to the Senate organizational committee. It is possible lawmakers may tweak the measure and bring it back to the floor.