A group opposed to the construction of a St. Croix County wind farm is considering its legal options and plans “to continue to fight against Highland Wind in any way we can.”
That was the message from opponents of the western Wisconsin project after state regulators responded to a court decision that overturned the Public Service Commission’s approval of the project.
The PSC voted 2-0 to address concerns raised last summer when a St. Croix County judge overturned the permit issued by the agency in 2013.
The agency removed a stipulation in the permit that certain homes be eligible for reduced noise limits from nearby wind turbines. Instead, a uniform sound limit will be in place for the entire project, and the PSC will use a complaint process to address noise concerns, the agency decided.
After the vote, developer Emerging Energies indicated that construction of the 44-turbine wind farm could start by the end of this year.
But the possibility of further litigation could result in further delays.
“Highland Wind is a bad idea in a populated rural area unsuitable for a large industrial wind energy system and fueled only by profit at the expense of the town of Forest residents,” Brenda Salseg of The Forest Voice, a group of local residents opposed to the project, said in a statement. “The only persons and entities that will benefit from Highland Wind, a merchant wind power plant, are the developers, future owners, and leaseholders.”
But developer Bill Rakocy of Emerging Energies said others would receive benefits from the project as well. So-called “good neighbor” payments would be received by anyone living within one-half mile of a turbine, and the county government and towns of Forest and Ceylon would receive a combined $410,000 a year in shared revenue for 30 years.
Meanwhile, the developer says he’d like to see the 44-turbine project built with steel towers made in Manitowoc by Broadwind Energy Inc.
Typically the selection of a tower vendor is made by the turbine manufacturer, he noted. But Siemens, which builds the turbines approved for the project, has a relationship with Broadwind Energy, which has one of its two tower factories in Manitowoc.
“It would be most practical that they would come from Broadwind,” Rakocy said.
Other than legal challenges to the permit, the next step for the project would be securing a power-purchase agreement with a utility. Rakocy said he’s exploring that as well as other options. Some other wind developments that have received permits have sold projects to utilities that want to own and build their own wind farms.
Currently, all of Wisconsin’s utilities are in compliance with the state’s renewable energy standard, but utilities are moving to add more renewable energy given dropping costs for wind power as well an expectation that more renewables will be needed to meet federal climate change regulations.
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