Not many details have emerged publicly, but federal records show a developer is looking to erect several 670-foot-tall wind turbines along a ridge near the Rock-Walworth county line.
A Federal Aviation Administration database lists the locations for 10 proposed wind turbines the agency said an unnamed developer applied to build in mid-December. The agency hasn’t started studying the proposal, but the FAA has regulatory authority over the location and height of wind turbines as they relate to boundaries and operations at local airports.
According to the FAA’s database, a developer is proposing to build the 10 turbines in a trapezoid-shaped swath of farmland that hugs a ridgeline on the Rock-Walworth county line south from County Highway A in the town of Harmony to just south of Walworth along Highway 67.
One official from the state’s electrical utility regulator, the Public Service Commission, said that based on the proposed height of the turbines—673 feet—the handful of turbines would likely be among the tallest windmills ever proposed in Wisconsin.
A coordinator with the FAA’s Obstruction Evaluation group confirmed that the FAA is looking at a proposed wind turbine development in Rock County involving 10 turbines.
The coordinator said that under federal policy, FAA officials “are not allowed” to release in-depth details or specifics about any wind farm proposal while it’s under evaluation, including the name of the developer proposing the project.
Under FAA policy, the FAA is required to make public its own letters of response to any groups who’ve sought the agency’s approval to build wind turbines. But the FAA’s oversight is limited to whether wind turbines’ proposed height and location would create a potential obstruction in controlled air space or aircraft flight paths.
State law typically requires other state and federal regulatory agencies to set wind turbine siting rules. The FAA coordinator declined to say whether FAA clearance typically is among the first regulatory steps in wind farm siting.
According to the FAA database, if approved, the wind turbines are tentatively slated for construction sometime between 2024 and 2025.
But Adam Ingwell, a Public Service Commission employee who handles and coordinates local wind energy siting requirements and processes, said it’s a regulatory process that can take a year or more, and one the PSC isn’t always immediately involved in.
Ingwell said the Public Service Commission has not been notified of a wind turbine proposal in Rock County, and officials for one statewide renewable energy lobby group, Renew Wisconsin, said they were also not familiar with the proposal.
But Ingwell said under state law, the PSC typically only takes direct regulatory oversight of wind farms planned with an energy production capacity of 100 megawatts or more.
Despite the fact that the proposed turbines in Rock County would be significantly taller than average wind turbines—which range between 200 and 400 feet high—Ingwell said he doubts that 10 turbines would generate anywhere near the 100 megawatts that would require regulatory oversight by his agency. Wind farms 100 megawatts in size can typically power between 35,000 and 40,000 homes, depending on wind conditions.
Some wind farms operating in northern Illinois have arrays of dozens or hundreds of turbines, yet few have turbines as tall as the ones being proposed in Rock County.
Ingwell said state and federal law requires developers to notify the PSC of a wind farm development, along with its federal or state regulatory status if the turbines proposed are expected to be more than 600 feet tall.
And Ingwell said developers must notify the PSC within 180 days from when they initially file for a federal construction permit, whether or not the commission has lead regulatory oversight over the project.
The PSC keeps those records in its own, publicly accessible database.
Wisconsin has a legal framework lawmakers put in place in 2010 to ease wind farm siting in the state, but the Public Service Commission has not taken the lead in siting a wind farm since then.
Ingwell said that’s because the state has not seen a wind farm proposal larger than 100 megawatts in the past 12 years.
The PSC earlier this week authorized the purchase of a proposed wind farm project in Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and Madison Gas and Electric in Grant County in southwestern Wisconsin.
The PSC reports that wind farm would be powered by about 30 turbines, and its generating capacity would total just over 90 megawatts.
More developers and electrical utilities have begun planning and siting large-scale solar farms in rural, southern Wisconsin. Wind farms proposed here have typically been smaller in scale, but energy analysts statewide say wind could become a growing part of alternative energy production as utility companies continue to decrease their reliance on coal-fired power plants.
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