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Union man details how council wrote wind rules

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GINA R. HEINE
August 15, 2010
— A local man who worked on the state council to write wind siting rules says the slanted make-up of the committee toward the wind industry created a disservice to the process.

The resulting rules likely will increase local dissent and resistance to proposed projects, which he predicts will end up in court, said Doug Zweizig, who co-chaired the wind siting council.


"I don't know what's going to happen, but I don't think it's going to be pretty," said Zweizig, who also is vice-chair of the Town of Union Plan Commission and worked on a special committee to write the town's wind ordinance.


The wind siting council this week released its report that serves as recommendations to the state Public Service Commission.


Zweizig was one of four council members that disagreed with portions of the report and wrote a minority opinion that was attached to the end of it. The minority report states concerns over the failure "to address the realities of the effects of large wind turbines on nearby populations, to bring quality information into critical areas and to explore the economic implications of locating an industrial facility next to a residential area."


The process

Legislators approved a bill last fall to allow the PSC to create rules to regulate wind projects statewide instead of the patchwork of local ordinances.


The council drafted its report over the last four months, and the three PSC commissioners will consider the report, the full record and all public and stakeholder comments before issuing the final rules, said Lori Sakk, legislative liaison for the PSC.


Then the presiding officer of the state Assembly and Senate will have 10 days to refer the rules to a committee, which would have 30 days to schedule a hearing or request to meet with the agency. If neither action is taken, the rules are promulgated and become law.


The law said the council members needed to be representatives of specific categories, including the energy industry, uncompensated landowners, wind developers, real estate agents, medical and research experts, environmentalists and local government.


But, "that's not the way the appointments were made," Zweizig said.


Whenever the PSC had any leeway, someone with ties or a supporting opinion to the wind industry was appointed, he said.


Sakk responded by saying the council members were appointed according to the statutory eligibility requirements established by the state Legislature.


Zweizig said his impression is that wind industry advocates were frustrated with towns such as Union, which has an ordinance for a half-mile turbine setback, so they went to the state to override the local ordinances. They got the legislation, he said, and since the PSC already was supportive, a council was put together to rubber stamp the desired outcome.


"What that did in terms of group process, meant that the majority never really had to explain itself very much or talk through issues," Zweizig said. "They didn't have to do that because they knew they had the votes."


Council Chairman Dan Ebert said in a letter accompanying the report that the council had "significant discussions" on many recommendations "in the spirit of working toward consensus." He said the recommendations reflect input from all council members, but acknowledged there were areas that the council did not reach a consensus.


The council's report states a turbine should be sited so:


-- It is set back from homes 1.1 times the maximum blade tip height, which would be 440 feet for the 400 foot turbines, Zweizig said.


-- It creates no more than 40 hours of shadow flicker on a home. If it's more than 20, the operator is required to provide mitigation, which can include putting blinds up in a house, Zweizig said.


-- The noise it creates is no more than 45 decibels at night and no more than 50 decibels during the day.


Zweizig said some council members lacked concern for health problems associated with living too close to turbines. He and others tried to point out that people are abandoning their homes because of health problems stemming from the noise and shadow flicker.


That's why council member Larry Wunsch, who lives within 1,100 feet of a turbine in Fond du Lac County, is trying to sell his property, Zweizig said. Wunsch also was among the four minority opinions on the council.


"He did whatever he could to let those on the council know those are the circumstances," Zweizig said. "They never asked him a question. They never said, 'What is this like?' They just waited him out, knowing that in the end they would just outvote him."


Local wind projects

The status of proposed projects in Union and Magnolia townships is unclear.


EcoEnergy was developing both projects, including signing on landowners, before it sold the rights for both to Acciona in 2007, said Jason Yates, contract manager with EcoEnergy in Elgin, Ill. The proposed projects back then included three turbines in Union and up to 67 in Magnolia.


Wind measurement towers were put up in both townships: Magnolia's went up in April 2007 at County B and Highway 213 and Union's went up in late 2008 at County C and Highway 104.


The Magnolia tower came down this spring at the end of the 36-month contract, landowner Tom Drew said. Since then, Drew said the only thing he heard from the company was that it was waiting to see the results of the state's new wind siting law.


In Union, the town permit for the tower expired last fall, and Acciona has decided to remove the tower, supervisor George Franklin said. It will be removed this fall after the corn that surrounds it is harvested, he said.


The Acciona North American website does not list any Wisconsin projects under its "In the works" projects. Acciona could not be reached for comment.


Evansville turbine begins operation

The new wind turbine in Evansville should be operational early this week, if not already, after possibly being struck by lightning.


The Northwind 100 arrived at the city's wastewater treatment plant on Water Street in June. After running for only a couple days, the turbine stopped working late on the night of July 21 or early on July 22, said Eve Frankel, marketing and communications manager at Northern Power Systems.


"We believe that it was potentially due to a lightning strike, but it's still under an investigation," she said.


The manufacturer is fixing parts on the turbine and ruling out causes, she said.


The repair shouldn't cost the city, City Administrator Dan Wietecha said, because it would be covered under the warranty or insurance.


Frankel said lightning striking a turbine is an "unusual occurrence," though Wisconsin seems to have more lightning strikes than other regions.


The tower height on the 100 kilowatt turbine is 120 feet and each blade is 37 feet. The turbine is part of the $7.2 million effort to upgrade the wastewater treatment facility.



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