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Southwest Wisconsin lawmakers hear proposals for energy legislation overhaul

BELMONT, Wis. – Faced with the construction of utility-scale solar and wind farms, southwest Wisconsin residents are appealing to state lawmakers, asking them to overhaul laws residents say leave them with little recourse against the proliferation of utility-scale facilities.

Constituents pitched ideas for reform at a listening session Friday at the Belmont Convention Center, attended by an audience of more than 100 along with Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Reps. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, and Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City.

“Gentlemen, please save our community,” said Stosh Potocki, of rural Mineral Point. “Please get the ball rolling.”

The conversation was spurred by the latest project, a 600-megawatt wind farm proposed by Pattern Energy, a multinational developer. Uplands Wind would include 120 to 200 turbines spread across 30,000 acres in Lafayette and Iowa counties.

By attendees’ estimates, the towers could reach 650 feet, making them viewable over vast swaths of the region from the outskirts of Madison to the bluff tops along the Mississippi.

The wind project is contingent upon the construction of the controversial Cardinal- Hickory Creek high-voltage transmission line, which will run 100 miles from Dubuque County to Dane County, Wis. Its construction is being challenged in state and federal courts.

Attendees urged lawmakers to institute a moratorium on power plants and transmission lines until state laws can be revised.

“As I’m working with farmers and seeing what is happening to their lands, this is turning good soil into dirt,” said Dena Kurt, of Hazel Green.

Organizers furnished the lawmakers with proposals that recommended the revision of setback requirements for solar and wind farms, which have grown considerably since state codes were written in 2014.

They also urged legislators to ban a practice often used by developers of obtaining land lease agreements from property owners before the public is notified.

Another proposal would require sales agents to furnish landowners with basic project details and plain language descriptions of state rules governing noise, glare, flicker and other nuisances.

Pattern spokesperson Matt Dallas said in an emailed statement that the company’s outreach team is available to speak with community members.

“We’ve had a continual presence at public meetings,” he said. “We are looking forward to expanding our information sharing with the public in the coming months and beyond.”

Friday’s organizers also hope to see the outlawing of a “site and acquire” business model under which a state utility purchases an installation from an energy developer and passes the cost on to ratepayers. The private developer is not required to disclose project costs nor demonstrate that the installation is preferable to alternatives – conditions that would be required if a state utility constructed the facility.

The lawmakers said any proposal would be futile without support from Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers.

“Today, a lot of people were here who thought we had all of the power to stop this, which we don’t,” Tranel said. “Unfortunately, almost every issue is not as clean cut and dry as people would like to assume.”

Novak said he would send Evers a letter inviting him to attend a future listening session, while Marklein said he would research the possibility of a moratorium, advising attendees that passing legislation is a “painfully slow” process.