After initially rejecting the plan, Wisconsin energy regulators gave the go-ahead Thursday for Emerging Energies of Wisconsin to build a $250 million wind farm in St. Croix County.
The state Public Service Commission approved the Highland Wind Farm in a 2-to-1 vote, with commission Chairman Phil Montgomery and commissioner Eric Callisto agreeing to support the project, and commissioner Ellen Nowak voting against.
Earlier this year, Montgomery and Nowak had rejected the plan, saying the developer hadn’t shown it was able to comply with the state’s noise standard for wind turbines.
But the commission opened the door for Emerging Energies to show how it could comply with the standard. The developer followed up, indicating it could comply by curtailing some of the turbines at night.
Montgomery said Thursday he was satisfied with the developer’s plan, but wanted to see documentation that the wind turbines are programmed to meet the noise standard and that the developers follow up “with adequate measurement and monitoring.”
The PSC decided to double the number of sound monitors that would measure compliance with the state noise standard and to require more sound monitoring four times a year. The commission could also require further action if the project results in noise complaints.
Montgomery and Callisto said the sound modeling used in the project was conservative and is likely to over-predict the amount of noise the project will generate.
The developer released a statement Thursday afternoon, saying in part: “Commissioner Montgomery set high standards for us to meet and gave us another chance to prove that we were able to comply with the state’s noise standard for wind turbines.”
If the project moves forward to construction, the Highland Wind Farm would consist of up to 44 wind turbines, generating 102.5 megawatts of electricity. It would be built in the towns of Forest and Cylon, nearly 60 miles northwest of Eau Claire.
Peter McKeever, a lawyer for Forest Voice, a group that opposes the project, said it will need to review the commission’s final decision before deciding whether to file an appeal in court.
“Forest Voice is disappointed that a majority of the Public Service Commission did not discuss many of the evidentiary issues that were raised, but remains optimistic of ultimately prevailing,” he said. “The proposed project will harm the health and safety of many of the residents of the community and rob them of the value of their properties. Until wind projects are properly sited, they will remain controversial.”
The conservation group Clean Wisconsin praised the vote. “Today’s decision is a victory for cleaner air and water in Wisconsin,” Katie Nekola, the group’s general counsel, said in a statement. “The Highland Wind project will supply enough clean, safe electricity to power hundreds of homes and businesses, and will displace dirty coal power.”
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