A St. Croix County town has filed suit to block construction of a wind farm proposed by Emerging Energies.
The $250 million project, the Highland Wind Farm, has been on the drawing board for several years and was initially rejected by the state Public Service Commission. The commission later reconsidered and gave the project the go-ahead last fall.
The decision of the Town of Forest to file suit to block the project was praised by Forest Voice, a group of residents who mobilized to challenge the wind farm.
“We support our town government and remain confident our constitutional rights and freedoms will be upheld in our own backyards rather than in Madison, where lawmakers and regulators seem more concerned with pleasing the wind industry than upholding constitutional rights or protecting the public interest, health, and welfare,” said Brenda Salseg, spokeswoman for Forest Voice, in a statement.
At issue in the PSC’s back-and-forth decisions on the project was whether the wind turbines would comply with the Wisconsin wind turbine noise standard, developed several years ago.
The PSC initially said the wind farm wouldn’t be able to comply, but Emerging Energies, based in Richfield, countered that it could comply by curtailing operation of some of the turbines at night.
Salseg said the commission should have attempted to try to impose a curtailment strategy at another wind farm that’s already been built instead of at a brand new project.
In cases that have challenged PSC decisions, courts over the past decade have generally sided with the agency – giving the regulatory body deference to decide the fate of controversial projects.
In its suit, the town contends that the curtailment plan would reduce the power output from the project below 100 megawatts. That, in turn, would mean the PSC would no longer have authority to grant a permit for the project, the town contends.
The state has authority over permits for wind farms that are at least 100 megawatts, and leaves to local units of government the decision on smaller projects.
Emerging Energies initially proposed a smaller wind farm and sought permits from the Town of Forest. After the town approved the plan, a recall election ensued, and the new board of supervisors rescinded that decision.
The developer then increased the size of the project so that it would need state rather than local approval.
As proposed, the Highland Wind Farm would consist of up to 44 wind turbines, generating a maximum 102.5 megawatts of electricity.
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