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County Board adopts wind farm ordinances

MANITOWOC – Developers wanting to establish wind energy farms in Manitowoc County will have to comply with a county ordinance.

The Manitowoc County Board on Tuesday evening adopted two ordinances, one for small wind energy systems and one for large systems, both by a 23-0 vote.

The county previously had wind farm ordinances but they became obsolete when the state took over the regulation of wind energy systems, removing that authority from local municipalities. The state rules, which went into effect in March 2012, were developed by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission and are a part of the Wisconsin Administrative Code. The provisions of any local ordinance can be no more restrictive than the state rules, known as PSC 128.

Because the county received a wind energy system application in December, the board needed to adopt an ordinance by April 1 in order for it to apply to that wind farm. PSC 128 requires political subdivisions to adopt a wind siting ordinance by the first day of the fourth month after an application is received. If they don’t adopt such an ordinance in that time frame, the application is automatically approved – provided the wind farm isn’t proposed for an area “primarily designated for future residential or commercial development,” according to a flow chart explaining the process. In that case, the wind farm is governed only by some procedural rules in PSC 128 and not by any substantive regulations, according to Tim Ryan, director of the Manitowoc County Planning and Zoning Department.

A Wisconsin-based company, EEW Services, submitted an application in December to develop Beautiful Hill Wind Farm in the Mishicot area. The application specifies that six wind turbines are planned for the town of Mishicot and one for the town of Two Rivers. The turbines, to be located on the property of multiple landowners, are expected to produce enough power for about 7,500 homes, according to a letter last summer from Beautiful Hill Wind Farm spokesman Jay Mundinger.

PSC 128 allows the county to include certain optional provisions in its ordinances. For instance, Manitowoc County’s ordinance regarding large wind farms requires the owners to offer an agreement including annual monetary compensation to neighboring property owners that have a residence within a half-mile of a wind turbine. Without a county or local ordinance, there would be no such requirement.

“The ordinance that has been put together was put together with the County Board’s direction to prepare an ordinance that was as strict as we can possibly make it,” Manitowoc County Corporation Counsel Steve Rollins told the supervisors. “I can tell you that we did that probably too well because we’ve heard from the PSC that there are some things that they are going to insist be changed because they are stricter.”

Rollins said those amendments, which he referred to as “a technical cleanup,” can be made down the road and he expects them to come before the board in about two months.

Concerns about health and safety

Two members of the public, Anita Roberts and Jerome Hlinak, both of whom live in the area of the proposed wind farm, shared multiple concerns, such as setbacks, low-frequency noise, location, and issues with the process.

“They made a … lot of very valid points, and if PSC 128 wasn’t in place I’m sure we would’ve (taken) a lot of those into consideration,” Supervisor Jim Brey said. “We are under PSC 128, and that’s the final say with it.”

“We need to start looking at public health and safety and addressing it,” said Supervisor Chuck Hoffman, who represents the village of Mishicot and the towns of Mishicot and Two Creeks. “We have people now that have shown that there is a low-frequency noise created by the wind turbines up at the Shirley Wind Farm (in Brown County). These are the same turbines that are in the … contract to be put in in Manitowoc County. … If we’re going to be doing this, we’re just allowing this health and safety issue to continue right into Manitowoc County. … It may cause us to get involved in a … lawsuit of some sort but I still think that we need to protect our constituents.”