A bill that opponents say would squash the wind energy business in Wisconsin, largely by making it easier for residents living within 1.5 miles of a wind turbine to sue for alleged negative impacts to their health and property values, will be the subject of a Capitol hearing Wednesday.
“I introduced [Senate Bill 167] to make sure the rights of my neighbors are protected,” said Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, in a statement. “I believe these people have health problems because of the turbines and I’m tired of the Public Service Commission dragging their feet. This is a public health issue for all of Wisconsin. It’s time to get answers.”
Lasee’s district includes the Shirley Wind Farm in Brown County. In July of 2012, Lasee brought four of his constituents who live near the farm to testify before the Public Service Commission. They said the low frequency noise emitted from the wind turbines was making them sick.
Several families affected by the wind turbines are expected to testify at the Capitol hearing. The hearing begins at 10:30 a.m. and will be held in Room 412 East.
Chris Kunkle, a lobbyist with Cullen Weston Pines & Bach LLP, who represents the American Wind Energy Association, Wind on the Wires and RENEW Wisconsin, said the Republican-controlled legislature has been focusing on tort reform for numerous other industries – a move that companies looking to do business in Wisconsin see as a positive.
But Kunkle said this bill encourages residents to sue by also awarding attorney’s fees and removing an existing $500 cap.
“This bill is wildly hypocritical,” Kunkle said. “Lawmakers say they are trying to improve the business climate in the state, yet they are picking one industry and creating a new set of legal standards.”
The list of groups lobbying against the bill reads like a who’s who of the state’s energy and legal industries. It includes Alliant Energy, the American Wind Energy Association, Clean Wisconsin, Coalition for Wisconsin Environmental Stewardship, Dairyland Power Cooperative, EEW Services, General Electric Co., Madison Gas & Electric Co., NextERa Energy Resources, Xcel Energy, RENEW Wisconsin, the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club, Wind on the Wires, Wisconsin Civil Justice Council, Wisconsin Energy Corp., Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Public Service Corporation and the Wisconsin Utilities Association.
The Wisconsin Realtors Association is registered in support of the bill.
According to a 2013 study conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the effects of wind energy facilities on nearby property values, there was no distinguishable drop in property values. This countered most existing studies on the topic that found property values dropped between 3 and 4 percent.
The extensive sample size is believed to explain the difference in the results. Data was collected from more than 50,000 home sales in 27 counties in nine states. The homes were located within 10 miles of 67 different wind facilities, with 1,198 home sales occurring within 1 mile of a turbine and another 331 occurring within half a mile of a turbine.
The bill is the latest hit against the wind power industry’s attempt to expand in Wisconsin.
In 2009, a law was passed with bipartisan support that called for the PSC to create a statewide wind turbine siting rule. To help move the effort along, a 15-member board was created. It was the job of the board to help determine such things as how far a turbine could be located from homes and set regulations for how much shadow flicker a year could be cast on a nearby home.
In March of 2011, that process was suspended by the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules. A bill that would have permanently suspended the process for regulating wind turbine siting failed with Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, voting with the Democrats to keep the effort at least partially alive.
Since then, four wind farm projects have been suspended and three have been canceled.
Wisconsin currently ranks 20th nationally for its total installed wind capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. This includes 417 turbines that generate 648 megawatts of energy annually.
In comparison, Iowa ranks third, with 3,198 turbines that produce 5,133 megawatts of power; Illinois ranks 4th in wind capacity, with 2,195 turbines that generate 3,568 megawatts of energy; Minnesota ranks 7th, with 2,124 turbines that produce 2,987 megawatts of energy. For more state-by-state wind energy data click here.
“There are national companies that see Wisconsin as a black hole,” Kunkle said.
The PSC has been tasked, with the assistance of the 15-member committee, to provide a report to the Legislature in October of 2014 that includes scientific reviews of all literature on the health impacts of wind turbines and national best practices for siting wind farms.
“Sen. Lasee and some of his allies are saying we need to stop until the state can study this industry,” Kunkle said. “But we are already studying this industry.”
Kunkle said there is no link between wind farms and negative health impacts, but added there is an “element of annoyance” that could lead to other adverse impacts.
“These claims are all taken seriously by the wind industry,” Kunkle said. “It is in their best interest to mitigate any concerns out there.”
The public hearing will be before the Senate Labor and Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend. His district includes the state’s largest wind farm, situated north of Milwaukee.
In a Midwest Energy News article, Grothman said he’s dedicating time to the bill because he believes something needs to be done to address complaints from his constituents who live near that project.
Grothman hinted that the bill may not advance as it’s currently written, but he said the issue needs to be addressed.
“I’m not sure in what form the bill would move forward,” Grothman told Midwest Energy. “I think the bill is a drastic measure, and we’ll see what other suggestions we can come up with to help these people out.”
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