One of Gov. Scott Walker’s first legislative goals – to restrict wind farm development by protecting property rights – was dealt a setback last week when the Legislature adjourned its regular session.
After lobbying by wind energy developers, supporters and utilities, the Republican-controlled Legislature decided not to throw out rules governing how far wind turbines should be placed from homes.
The move won’t bring immediate moves to develop major wind projects, experts say, but it helps provide clear rules for utilities and wind developers to follow.
Over the past week, We Energies and other state electric utilities came out in favor of the rules, which were opposed by the Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Wisconsin Towns Association.
As with the mining reform bill, state Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) was the deciding vote when the Senate shelved the issue.
The state rules, adopted by the Public Service Commission under the administration of Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, set setback and noise standards for wind farms. The setbacks are in line with those that applied to We Energies when it built the state’s most recent wind farm, the Glacier Hills Wind Park.
Last year, the Walker administration sided with wind farm opponents and the Realtors in backing a much more restrictive proposal aimed at protecting property rights. The Legislature then voted in March 2011 to bar the Public Service Commission’s rule from taking effect.
Critics of the rule cited concerns about the impact of wind turbines on property values of nearby homes and problems with noise and shadow flicker that residents near wind turbines have experienced.
Wind energy supporters say the state has lost out on the job creation and landowner payments that come with wind farm development as developers raced to build wind farms in other states.
“2012 is going to be, if not the biggest, it’ll be the second-biggest year for wind project installations in the country,” said Jeff Anthony, director of business development at the American Wind Energy Association. “Wisconsin’s missing out on that.”
As part of implementing the rule, the PSC must conduct a survey by October 2014 of peer-reviewed scientific literature examining the health effects of wind energy systems, spokeswoman Kristin Ruesch said.
The PSC rules “are no cakewalk for developers,” Anthony said, because they include specific decibel limits on noise and shadow flicker restrictions in addition to the setback provisions.
Wisconsin has one wind project under construction – a 5-megawatt project being developed by Organic Valley Cooperative and Gunderson Lutheran Health System near La Crosse.
Also in the planning stages: a small two-turbine project proposed by S.C. Johnson & Son in Mount Pleasant.
The wind industry is seeing strong development activity across the country this year because of a rush to finish projects before federal wind power tax credits expire in December.
Under construction in nearby states, according to the association: 614 megawatts of wind power in Illinois, 470 in Iowa, 348 in Michigan and 202 in Indiana.
We Energies last year built the state’s largest wind farm, the Glacier Hills Wind Park, northeast of Madison. Its two wind farms, wind power purchase agreements and construction of a biomass energy plant in Rothschild position the utility company to comply with the state’s 2015 renewable energy standard.
But because the renewable standard is tied to electricity sales, the utility expects to need more renewable energy by 2016 or 2017.
“Our hope is that those wind-related companies that saw Wisconsin as a place to do business and create jobs will now invest in our state,” said Chris Kunkle of the Wisconsin Energy Business Association, a trade group of wind developers and wind components suppliers.
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