Janesville67.9°

Local residents concerned wind bill would wipe out their work

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GINA R. HEINE
April 19, 2009
— Tom Alisankus’ blood pressure rises when discussion turns to a proposed bill to regulate wind energy.

The issue angers him, he said, because the proposed state regulations would remove local control, wiping out months of work by a study committee he chaired to write an local ordinance regulating wind energy in Union Township.


“This, again, is just legislation that would completely eviscerate everything that Union Township spent $40,000 doing,” he said, “and we did it because the state didn’t do it the first time, and that’s what bothers me so much.”


But proponents of the bill say it would allow “stalled” wind projects to get moving across the state, creating jobs and increasing renewable energy.


“The major challenge we face is inconsistency in ordinances across the state,” said Ben Schicker, director of marketing for EcoEnergy, a wind developer proposing projects in Rock County.


“What might be permitted in one county is not allowed in the other,” he said. “It’s important that people have a role in how projects are developed in their area, but we feel it’s also important to the state as a whole that we have uniform siting standards so there’s a level playing field.”


The bill being circulated by Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, would have the state Public Service Commission develop statewide permitting standards. It’s the second time around for such a bill. A similar one failed to reach a vote a year ago.


Wind developers and environmental groups are backing the legislation.


EcoEnergy is supporting the bill because some places in the state have ordinances that are so strict they make it impossible to site any wind projects, Schicker said.


After Alisankus’ committee presented its ordinance last year, EcoEnergy officials said the requirement for a half-mile setback from homes eliminated any usable land in the township.


Schicker said the legislation would be good for the state and Rock County because it would create an attractive place to do business. Consistent standards encourage economic development, he said.


Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, worked with the town of Union during its ordinance-writing process and plans to oppose the legislation if it goes through as written.


The missing element, he said, is respect for decisions already made by local governments.


Alisankus said the bill should at least include a grandfather clause allowing communities that have studied the issue to keep their ordinances.


“That’s almost like the consolation prize though,” he said.


Davis said the best chance for changes to a bill is at the committee level. He’s hoping the bill is referred to the rural affairs and renewable energy committee, of which he is a member.


Alisankus said members of the Union study committee spent hundreds of hours researching and traveling to wind farms. They aren’t against wind energy, he said.


“What we’re against is the idea that they can be sited in a way that’s dangerous to other people,” he said.


There’s so much talk of NIMBY—not in my backyard—folks, but lawmakers proposing the a state standard aren’t willing to go deeper to see the science and medical data that backs the Union ordinance, Alisankus said.


If the bill passes, Alisankus said he doesn’t trust the PSC to thoroughly research and take health and safety issues into account when writing a statewide standard.


HOW THE LAW MIGHT CHANGE
Existing law: Municipalities can restrict wind energy systems only for health or safety reasons but cannot impose rules that significantly increase the cost of the system or decrease its efficiency.

Siting wind turbine projects that would generate less than 100 MW is controlled by local ordinances. Projects of 100 MW or more go to the Public Service Commission for review and approval.


Proposed law: Siting of smaller projects, such as EcoEnergy’s proposed three-turbine project in Union Township, would be governed by a statewide standard. Projects of 100 MW or more would continue to be regulated by the PSC.

If the bill passes, the PSC would approve statewide rules, wiping out local ordinances if they are more restrictive.


Under the bill, the PSC would be advised on rule-making by a committee of:


-- Wind energy system developers


-- The public


-- Municipalities


-- Energy groups


-- Environmental groups


-- Realtors


-- Landowners who live near wind energy systems and who have not received compensation from the owners, operators or developers of wind energy systems.


The bill also would create an appeal procedure to the PSC on decisions made by local governments on wind energy projects.



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