The stage was set for a serious confrontation as officials with the Highland Wind Farm hosted an open house Wednesday, April 25.
The gathering, conducted at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in New Richmond, was designed to answer questions that area residents had about the project that would bring 41 turbines to the Town of Forest and an electrical substation to the Town of Cylon if approved by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.
Opponents of the project gathered in the college’s parking lot as the open house began. Many of them wore “Stop the Turbines” shirts and several signs were posted to display their displeasure with the industrial wind farm idea.
John Strom, a spokesman for the opponents, said the group would eventually be well represented inside.
“We’ll attempt to get some questions answered,” he said, claiming that Highland officials have avoided answering many questions up until now.
He also charged that when developers do provide answers to people’s questions, the landowners are peppered with partial truths and incomplete information.
Strom and others continue to claim that the Highland project doesn’t belong in the Town of Forest because turbines have been shown to have an impact on the health of those living nearby. Homeowners are also concerned that their property values will decline if the turbines are eventually installed.
Strom said such wind farms belong in places where homes are not close by, but Forest is too heavily populated to comfortably host such a project. At the most, Strom said, the township could safely site between 18 or 19 turbines, not 41.
As the PSC process moves toward possible approval by this fall, Strom said the citizen’s group will continue to do all it can to stop the turbines from being installed locally.
“The best we can do is educate people and raise awareness,” he said. “It’s not that we’re anti-wind, we just want responsible siting.”
When the group went inside WITC to participate in the gathering, there were a few terse words exchanged between supporters and opponents of the project, but overall the open house was orderly and cordial.
Jay Mundinger, founding principal of the Highland Wind Farm project, said he was happy both backers and those opposed to the plans were represented.
“We were very, very pleased,” he said. “I think we were able to set the record straight on a few things. There’s been some misinformation out there.”
Mundinger said he recognizes that strong feelings remain on both sides of the issue, but Highland officials are committed to working with everyone and answering questions and concerns.
“We’re willing to continue listening,” he said. “I don’t think we’re shutting the door on anyone.”
Highland contends that current research shows no correlation between turbine operations and the health of individuals nearby. They also claim that a wind farm will not negatively impact property values in the area.
According to a timeline posted at the open house, the PSC will likely conduct two public meetings in July or August to gather comments about the Highland project. One meeting will likely be held in Madison while a second will be offered in the St. Croix County area.
If the project continues to move forward, Highland officials expect final state approval to occur by Sept. 25. If that happens, turbine construction could begin before the end of 2012.
The proposed wind farm project includes the following details: 26,550 acre project boundary; 41 turbine sites with 11 additional alternative locations; an estimated 100-member construction work force; an estimated six to eight permanent employees for wind farm operations.
If constructed, the project would connect to Xcel Energy’s 161-kilovolt transmission line near the Forest-Cylon town line.
The Highland Wind Farm would produce enough renewable wind energy to power more than 30,000 homes.
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