A controversial wind farm development in St. Croix County may once again move forward following approval from a state commission that had previously denied a permit for the project.
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin voted 2-1 Thursday to approve a permit for Highland Wind Farm, a development by Emerging Energies of Wisconsin that could bring up to 44 wind turbines to the town of Forest.
In February, the commission voted 2-1 to deny the permit because of questions over whether the project would meet state guidelines for noise. Those questions, however, were subsequently addressed, according to a spokesman for the commission, which had not published its official decision as of Tuesday.
Emerging Energies of Wisconsin said in a statement that it applauded the decision.
“(Commission Chairman Phil) 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,” the company said. “Our work will continue as we understand the emotional nature of this exhaustive debate.”
The decision came as a surprise to the project’s opposition, which is concerned low-frequency noise generated by the turbines could negatively affect the health of nearby residents.
Town of Forest Chairman Jaime Junker said he felt the opposition’s experts offered the commission stronger arguments on noise issues compared to arguments by the developer’s experts.
The town board will meet in closed session with its attorneys within the next week to discuss any legal issues moving forward, Junker said. He added the town of Forest is not against wind power in general, but is concerned about the potential noise generated by this project.
It was been a contentious issue for the town the past few years. In 2010, a group named The Forest Voice formed in opposition to the project and launched a successful recall campaign against all three members of the town board, which had approved permits for the project.
Those permits were rescinded by the new board members, and The Forest Voice hired attorneys and brought in experts to continue fighting the project.
The project’s opposition will have 20 days to appeal the commission’s final decision and 30 days to file a case in circuit court. The Forest Voice has yet to make a decision about next steps, said member Brenda Salseg.
“We don’t know what the exact conditions for the approval are at this time, and it wasn’t really clear during that hearing (Thursday), either,” Salseg said. “So we’re leaving all possibilities open at this point in time.”
Junker said that even if the project does move forward, he would be surprised if it were actually built, as state restrictions over noise will affect the development’s finances.
The $250 million, 102.5 megawatt project would employ 100-plus people during construction and create 6 to 8 fulltime jobs, according to the company.
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