The Clear Creek Town Board approved a one-year moratorium Monday night on wind farm development in the town.
The action came in response to overwhelming demand from town residents who attended a special meeting last week about a proposed 200-megawatt wind farm in southern Eau Claire County.
More than 100 people showed up for last week’s meeting at Clear Creek Town Hall, with many calling for a moratorium to give residents more time to study the pros and cons of wind energy. After much discussion, town residents then voted 60-15 to direct the board to draft and approve a one-year moratorium.
“We were directed by the people to pass the moratorium, so we did,” said Lotty Macik, town chairman. “It’s one of the last forms of direct democracy we have.”
Macik pledged to do what he can to assure the will of the people prevails.
“A majority of the people in this township do not want it, and we’re going to fight it,” he said of the proposed wind farm.
The majority of residents who spoke at the special meeting expressed concerns about health and safety – mostly related to sound, light flicker and stray voltage – that have arisen among neighbors of other wind farms in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Others said they were worried about the impact on wildlife, water quality, aesthetics and relationships among divided town residents. A few residents talked about the benefits of renewable energy and payments to landowners.
Chicago-based RWE Renewables Americas is exploring the possibility of building a wind farm valued at more than $200 million on about 20,000 acres of farmland in the towns of Clear Creek and Pleasant Valley. The project would include 40 to 70 wind turbines that likely would be about 500 feet tall. The proposed site is west of U.S. 53, east of Highway 93 and south of Cleghorn.
RWE wind development manager Eric Crawford said company officials selected the site because of the prevalence of agricultural land, adequate wind and a Wisconsin political climate viewed as supportive of pursuing sustainable energy sources.
The town passed the moratorium despite receiving a letter from RWE in the past week asserting that the town doesn’t have jurisdiction to pass a moratorium.
“Our understanding of Wisconsin regulations is that a moratorium is unenforceable,” Crawford said Monday night.
But Macik said he told company officials he believes that is not the case regarding issues involving health and safety.
Eau Claire County Supervisor Carl Anton said he plans to deliver a copy of the moratorium to the county’s Planning and Development Committee today, with the goal of that committee recommending a one-year moratorium on the county approving any permits related to wind farm development. After that panel considers it, the County Board could consider passing it as a county ordinance, he said.
“I think the moratorium is a good idea because there’s a lot of information that needs to be considered, and time will enable everyone to better understand this,” Anton said.
It’s not immediately clear how the moratorium could affect the development schedule, as RWE officials have said they don’t foresee starting construction on the Eau Claire County project before 2023.
“I still think there is a path forward for the project,” Crawford said. “I think there are substantial benefits to the project that the community can enjoy, so we will continue pursuing development of the project.”
Representatives of RWE Renewables, a subsidiary of Essen, Germany-based RWE AG, have met with county officials and residents of the proposed site to discuss preliminary details of the proposal and potential compensation.
On top of lease payments to landowners who agree to allow the company to place turbines on their property, RWE projects it would make payments totaling about $26 million to Eau Claire County and the two towns over the 30-year life of the project, Crawford said recently. Plans call for 60 percent of that money to go to the county and 40 percent to the towns.
RWE’s proposal calls for placing turbines between a third of a mile and a full mile apart and setting them back at least 1,500 feet from the homes of neighbors who aren’t participating in the project, Crawford said.
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