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Is St. Croix County wind battle over? Town says so

Township leaders have claimed victory in a multi-year battle over a St. Croix County wind farm project, though the energy company behind the project offered no sign that its efforts were through.

The town of Forest released a statement Oct. 28 saying it believes the developer, Leeward Renewable Energy, has abandoned plans to erect 44 wind turbines in the rural community about 6 miles northwest of Glenwood City.

Town Chairman Jaime Junker said the board based its statement on a key decision from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC). Junker said that required the project to comply with state noise standards 100% of the time.

“The town just feels that’s a very significant item in this whole situation,” Junker told RiverTown Multimedia Nov. 1, adding that the requirement leaves “no wiggle room” for Leeward to operate out of compliance.

The PSC had previously adopted a 95% noise compliance standard, but did away with a percentage-based standard in a 2016 decision. A PSC spokesman said “it is not technically accurate” that eliminating the percentage-based standard equates to a 100% compliance requirement.

The news release states the town obtained “a modification in the application from the PSC.” Spokesman Matt Sweeney, PSC’s communications and legislative director, said the town’s 100% figure was unclear and that he wasn’t sure what document supported that statement.

Junker said removal of the 95% requirement means the project would have to abide the state’s “absolute” noise laws.

“Take that (95% requirement) away, which the PSC did, and now you have to meet the law, or be in compliance 100% of the time,” he said.

Asked about the status of its Highland Wind Project, a Leeward spokesperson indicated the effort is ongoing.

“Leeward Renewable Energy is continuing the development of the Highland Wind Project, including working with the MISO in support of the ongoing electrical interconnection study,” the company said in a statement. “We will provide additional updates when they become available.”

MISO is the Midcontinent Independent System Operator organization that manages a 15-state energy program through the Midwest. States include Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota, as well as Manitoba, Canada.

The town of Forest has been at odds with the wind project since 2011, when the turbines were proposed. Community leaders have argued that noise from turbines can harm sleep ability and have other negative health impacts for people living near the 400-foot wind towers.

That led the town to seek a compliance standard. The wind developer countered that comprehensive noise monitoring and reporting standards were “more than adequate” to ensure noise limit compliance, according to a 2016 PSC decision.

Junker said the town board voted to move ahead with its statement in spite of the fact that Leeward maintains the project has momentum. The town board passed an Oct. 8 resolution claiming victory over the proposed project and approved a news release that includes a statement from Junker saying “we haven’t heard anything from Leeward in months and the feeling here in the town is that they have moved on.”

“Rest assured, we believe what the press release says,” Junker said in Nov. 1 interview.