Wind opponents’ arguments full of holes

Posted on March 2, 2008. Filed under: General |

A newly formed and misnamed Coalition for Wisconsin Environmental Stewardship (CWEST) circulated a memo to legislators in their effort to talk wind energy projects in Wisconsin.

RENEW prepared the follow memo in rebutal:

Campaign for Sensible Wind Permitting in Wisconsin 


To: Wisconsin Legislators


Assertion:       LRB 4107/4 is perhaps the worst example of the state eliminating local control that has crossed your desk. This product of the PSC is saying to our members, “Too bad you have spent all these hours assisting local governments to design local ordinances. These ordinances are not pro-wind enough, so we must pre-empt them. 

Response:       Under current law, the Public Service Commission has permitting and pre-emption authority over all power plants in excess of 100 MW, including wind energy installations. The proposed legislation would not change the threshold that triggers automatic PSC pre-emption authority over wind energy installations.  Under current law, local governments have permitting authority over all power plants under 100 MW, including wind energy installations, and no statute grants the PSC explicit authority to pre-empt their permitting decisions for power plants of this size. If the proposed legislation were adopted, wind developers would still need to file permit applications for permits with local governments, which retain the authority to review and make decisions on wind energy projects. This legislation is the product of compromise between Wisconsin Towns Association, Wisconsin Counties Association, wind industry representatives, a broad spectrum of energy stakeholders, and the executive branch.  The parties came together to fashion a framework that balances the interests of the state with the desire to preserve local permitting authority. This new framework ensures greater certainty to the wind industry while preserving for local governments the authority to review and make decisions on wind energy projects. 

Assertion: LRB 4107/4 does not provide any safeguards for citizens, but is a sledgehammer approach to force windmill ghettos into any corner of Wisconsin that a wind developer deems attractive. 

Response: This legislation requires the Public Service Commission to set uniform standards for local units of government to apply in permitting wind turbines in Wisconsin. In this proceeding as well as all other proceedings, the Commission has the responsibility of implementing state energy policy while protecting public health and safety. This legislation does not dictate what those standards must be. The Commission will set those standards based on both Wisconsin wind generation experience and relevant scientific analysis available from other sources. 

Assertion: The PSC, and only the PSC, will determine issues such as setback and noise levels. 

Response:  PSC rulemaking is open to all stakeholders, including groups opposed to wind development. Interested parties would have a place at the table where they can make their case for specific provisions. Additionally, the Legislature must approve all rules and can hold hearings on them. 

Assertion:  The PSC is asking for authority to continue to step on the concerns of local citizens and if this bill becomes law, neighbors will be left with no recourse. 

Response:  The proposed legislation would institute a process for appealing local permitting decisions to the PSC for projects above 1 MW. This appeal process provides developers and decision-makers alike with a framework and timetable for preparing, reviewing and deciding on applications to construct commercial wind turbines. As written, the legislation would not place any limitations on appeal rights to the Public Service Commission. The ability to appeal a decision by the reviewing local government is open to developers, host landowners and neighboring residents.

Assertion:  At 1,000 feet setbacks the noise from a wind turbine can exceed 50 dB which, as a constant drone, could absolutely ruin the peace and quiet associated with total life and dramatically reduce property values.  

Response:  With few exceptions commercial wind turbines operating in Wisconsin are subject to permits that specify maximum sound output. For the record, not a single commercial turbine in Wisconsin has ever been discovered to exceed the 50 dB sound threshold at a neighboring residence. Under most, if not all of the permits granted in Wisconsin, sound levels that exceed 50 dB measured at a neighboring residence would be grounds for shutting down the turbine or turbines causing the elevated sound levels until the problem is fixed.  A report recently put together by the US Department of Energy and the National Association of Counties states that “an operating modern wind farm at a distance of 750’-1,000’ is no louder than a kitchen refrigerator or moderately quiet room.”  

Wisconsin’s current crop of commercial wind generators were installed between 1998 and 2001. None of the town assessors in communities hosting these turbines have observed reductions in the value of nearby properties since their construction. Indeed, at several locations, new houses have been built in plain sight of these wind generators. 

Assertion:  Shadow flicker can be a tremendous nuisance to neighbors or drivers if local governments are prevented from taking this flicker into account.

Response:  According to the National Research Council’s May 2007 report titled Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy Projects: “In the United States, shadow flicker has not been identified as causing even a mild annoyance. … Even in the worst situations, shadow flicker only lasts for a short time each day—rarely more than half an hour. Moreover, flicker is observed only for a few weeks in the winter season.” 

Assertion:  Siting of wind turbine power plants is a major issue which will affect the landscape for generations to come. 

Response:  For that very reason, the venue for determining uniform standards for permitting wind turbines properly resides with the entity responsible for permitting and regulating power plants in Wisconsin, namely the Public Service Commission.  

Assertion:  We respectfully ask that all action on LRB4107/4 be delayed until a Legislative Council study can be done to truly address the issues we have raised. 

Response:  The absence of agreed-upon standards for permitting wind projects has allowed local jurisdictions to impose restrictions and requirements on wind developers that that are expensive, time-consuming, and often divorced from scientific reality and first-hand experience.  As a consequence, approximately 400 MW of planned wind developments, representing $800 million in investment and $1,600,000 per year in payments to local governments, are stalled across Wisconsin, due to moratoria and restrictive ordinances adopted by local governments.      

It was nearly 10 years ago today that Madison Gas & Electric announced plans to build the first commercial wind project in Wisconsin. That project sparked a siting controversy in the Town of Stockbridge in Calumet County. Ultimately, the utility was forced to relocate its 17-turbine installation to Kewaunee County. To this day, no Calumet County jurisdiction has ever issued a permit for a commercial wind turbine, notwithstanding the robust wind resource there.

Given the current permitting climate for wind projects under 100 MW, the developer has two choices: either enlarge the project so that it triggers automatic PSC review, or abandon the project. All three wind projects under construction in Wisconsin today were reviewed by the Public Service Commission, two of them through the CPCN process that pre-empts local siting authority.                         

The problems associated with the current permitting regime appear to be intractable and beyond resolution.  A Legislative Council study would extend this dysfunctional situation by two years, possibly longer, heightening our concern that Wisconsin utilities until may not satisfy the renewable energy targets goals required under Act 141.

Delaying a resolution to this problem by that length of time will result in economic hardships in the form of:                                   

(1) lost revenues to local governments; (2) lost revenues to host landowners;(3) higher costs absorbed by electric ratepayers due to inflation caused by permitting delays; and,

(4) project cancellations, resulting in lost revenues for local construction firms, workers and manufacturers.    

Who Is Supporting the Campaign for Sensible Wind Permitting in Wisconsin ?

Addison Wind Energy, LLC

AgWind Energy Partners

American Wind Energy Association

Citizens Utility Board

Clean Wisconsin

Customers First Coalition

Dairyland Power Cooperative

EcoEnergy, LLC

Emerging Energies, LLC

Great Lakes Utilities

Horizon Wind Energy

IBEW 2150

Invenergy, LLC

Lake Michigan Wind and Sun

League of Women Voters – Wisconsin

Madison Gas & Electric

Michels Wind Energy

Midwest Renewable Energy Association

Midwest Wind Energy

Municipal Electric Utilities of WI

Natural Resources Consulting, Inc.

Orion Construction Group

Orion Energy Systems

RENEW Wisconsin

Ritger Law Office

Seventh Generation Energy Systems

Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter

Wausaukee Composites, Inc.

Wisconsin Environment

Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce

Wisconsin Public Power Inc.

Wisconsin Utilities Association

Xcel/Northern States Power-Wisconsin 


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