RENEW challenges town’s proposed siting ordinance
RENEW Wisconsin submitted the following letter to the board of the Town of Stockbridge at a public hearing on August 17:
August 17, 2007
Hon. James Mayer, Chairman
Town of Stockbridge
N5698 Lake Shore Drive
Hilbert, WI 54129
Dear Mr. Mayer:
Re: Proposed Wind Energy Systems Licensing Ordinance for the Town of Stockbridge in Calumet County
The following comments are submitted on behalf of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Madison whose 275 members across the state support the responsible development of Wisconsin’s renewable energy resources. Since 1991 RENEW has acted as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. Among its recent achievements is the creation of a Wisconsin Wind Coordinating Committee, a working group composed of wind industry professionals (developers, manufacturers, contractors, installers, utilities), environmental and renewable energy advocates, Focus on Energy renewable energy program staff and subcontractors, and state agency personnel directly involved with wind energy development. This stakeholder body addresses various issues, such as local ordinances, that affect the ability of wind development to proceed in an orderly manner in Wisconsin.
I have reviewed the August 3, 2007, draft ordinance that was prepared by John St. Peter, the Town Attorney, and I can safely say that if this ordinance is approved in its present form, commercial wind development will become an impossibility in this jurisdiction. So too would the use of wind energy to produce electricity for personal consumption.
To put this draft ordinance in perspective, it is worth asking whether other windpower projects operating or approved could be permitted under the terms proposed here. A quick review reveals that all five windpower installations operating in Wisconsin, including the 30 megawatt (MW) Montfort project in Iowa County, could not have been approved if those jurisdictions had in place an ordinance as restrictive as this one. The same holds true for We Energies’ Blue Sky Green Field project and Invenergy’s Forward Wind Center, both of which were approved by the Public Service Commission. Together, both developments are likely to account for more than 300 MW—10 times the generating capacity at Montfort.
In fact, none of the utility-scale projects proposed for development in Wisconsin (see accompanying summary table), would have even reached the application stage, let alone received approval, had those ordinances resembled what the Town of Stockbridge has drafted.
In approving Blue Sky Green Field and Forward Wind Center, the Public Service Commission made the following findings:
+ A setback distance of 1,000 feet from inhabited structures is reasonable;
+ A setback distance of 1.1 times total height from property lines and public right-of-ways is reasonable;
+ A maximum sound limit of 50 decibels, measured from the residence, is reasonable; and
+ Limiting overall turbine height is not reasonable.
The Public Service Commission believes that the health and safety of a community is adequately protected with the setbacks described above. Its conclusion is supported by an Environmental Impact Statement issued in the Forward Wind Center proceeding (Docket No. 9300-CE-100), and later affirmed by the Environmental Assessment performed in the Blue Sky Green Field proceeding (Docket No. 6630-CE-294). To adopt more restrictive standards would therefore require credible evidence that the standards used by the PSC are inadequate. Otherwise, such standards would constitute an arbitrary restriction of windpower development and would violate Wis. Stats. 66.0401, the state’s solar and wind energy siting statute. Can the Town of Stockbridge cite a single project in this state where setback requirements of 1,000 feet from inhabited structures and 1.1 x total turbine height from property lines have failed to adequately ensure public health and safety? I suspect not.
The draft ordinance also prohibits waiver agreements that allow wind turbines to be placed closer to a property line than what is permitted under Section VI.J(b), which is 1.1 times the total height of the wind turbine. Other ordinances and permits, including those issued by the PSC, have allowed lesser setbacks so long as both owners of the adjoining parcels agree to this arrangement in writing.
Section VI.J(c) of this ordinance would subject all turbines, irrespective of total height, to a 500-foot minimum setback from any road or power line right-of-way. Setback distances from roads and power line right-of-ways should be a function of the total height of the turbine, nothing more. As with the property line setbacks in VI.J((a), there is no safety-based justification for mandating road separation distances exceeding 1.1 times tower height. This arbitrary standard perversely discourages potential developers from selecting shorter turbines that have the advantage of being placed on sites closer to roads and public right-of-ways than larger turbines would.
A particularly glaring weakness of the proposed wind ordinance is that it does not distinguish between large turbines and small turbines, which are designed to reduce or offset consumption of electricity behind the utility meter. In defining small wind turbines, the Town should follow the State of Wisconsin’s Small Wind System Model Ordinance 12-06 Version, which specifies a maximum height of 170 feet and a maximum rated capacity of 100 kilowatts. Without such a definition and a provision exempting small wind turbines, the provisions of this ordinance, including all setbacks, decommissioning requirements, and restrictions to prevent the climbing of towers, would be applicable on small wind systems as well. The State of Wisconsin’s Small Wind Systems Model Ordinance can be accessed at RENEW Wisconsin’s web site. URL: http://www.renewwisconsin.org/wind/windtoolbox.html
Because wind energy is the most scalable and cost-effective renewable energy source available for utility service, we expect it to account for most of the renewable electricity that was recently mandated under Wisconsin law. In promulgating an ordinance that effectively prevents landowners from using, for beneficial purposes, the wind that blows over their properties, the Town of Stockbridge runs the risk of being perceived as a part of Wisconsin that is hostile to sustainable energy development. Put another way, if the intent of this ordinance is to preserve the Town of Stockbridge as a fossil fuel-dependent enclave, the drafters could not have done their jobs any better.
Finally, we wonder why any jurisdiction in Calumet County would want to create a new wind ordinance when the county has already established siting standards that adequately protect local residents living in proximity to wind turbines. The ordinance that Calumet County adopted in 2005, though strict, closely follows the permit conditions specified in the PSC’s approvals of both the Forward and Blue Sky Green Field projects. In our view, Calumet County’s ordinance strikes a reasonable balance between safeguarding public health and safety and enforcing the state’s renewable energy policies, in contrast to the arbitrary and unduly restrictive draft before you.
In the end, the Town of Stockbridge has no credible evidence to support the contention that the county’s ordinance is in any way inadequate. That being the case, we would urge the Town of Stockbridge to refrain from adopting an ordinance at all, and certainly one that is more strict than the already stringent ordinance under which any wind energy proposal, including those involving small wind systems, would be reviewed. In our view, any attempt to impose stricter standards than the ones already in place would put the Town on legal thin ice.
Thank you for providing RENEW an opportunity to discuss this draft ordinance in writing.