Plain English explanation of wind siting reform bill

Posted on October 12, 2009. Filed under: General |

Doyle signing SB185
Governor Doyle signs Senate Bill 185 into law as Act 40. In the front row immediately behind the Governor from left to right, Curt Pawlisch (blue suit, red tie), RJ Pirlot (bow tie, WMC), Senator Jeff Plale (blue shirt), Rep. Soletski, Steven Peters (Soletski staffer), Walter Lueder (Wisconsin Farmers Union, open callor/blue shirt), Ryan Schryver, Clean Wisconsin and Micheal Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin.

From a summary prepared by RENEW Wisconsin from materials published by the Wisconsin Legislative Council and Wind for Wisconsin:

The enactment of 2009 Act 40 (Act 40) does not establish rules for permitting a wind energy system, but rather requires the Public Service Commission (PSC) to establish those rules within two years. Current law (ss. 66.0401) states that wind energy projects can be stopped if the restriction does the one or more of the following:
• Serves to preserve or protect the public health or safety.
• Does not significantly increase the cost of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency.
• Allows for an alternative system of comparable cost and efficiency.

Under current law, a political subdivision has permitting authority over wind energy facilities up to 100 megawatts (MW) in total capacity. Wind energy facilities that are 100 MW or larger must be reviewed and approved by the PSC.

While not modifying that specific provision of ss. 66.0401 cited above, Act 40 creates a framework to allow limited and generally uniform local regulation of wind energy systems. Note that, while the current law addresses both wind and solar energy systems, the framework created by Act 40 applies only to wind energy systems.

Under Act 40, the PSC is granted authority to set standards for the subdivisions to use when regulating the wind systems in their area. If a local political subdivision chooses to write its own ordinance, the provisions contained therein cannot be more restrictive than those the PSC determines. For example, Act 40 states that a local government cannot prohibit a company from testing a site to see if it is a good place for turbines, or the opposite, to make them test so much that the goal is to effectively delay or run up costs. Any currently permitted projects will not have to repeat the process with the new guidelines and are effectively grandfathered under Act 40.

Legal challenges to wind energy facilities have typically centered on public health and safety issues. With this in mind, the PSC is required to establish minimum setback distances that provide reasonable protection against health effects, such as sound emissions and moving shadows associated with wind energy facilities. The agency must also set rules on decommissioning turbines, addressing both removal of the physical infrastructure and site restoration. In addition to the above, the PSC is authorized to establish rules on various contentious subjects including visual appearance, lighting, electrical connections to the power grid, maximum audible sound levels, proper means of measuring sound, and signal interference.

Read a more detailed plain English version of Act 40 in RENEW’s media center.


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