Can uniform setbacks prevent local wind farm fights?

Posted on January 6, 2011. Filed under: Wind | Tags: |

From an article by Kari Lydersen in Midwest Energy News:

Wisconsin is the first state in the region to apply statewide siting standards to small wind farms, potentially eliminating messy fights over city- and county-level regulation. Will other states follow suit?

On Jan. 1, a new Wisconsin state law took effect that wind energy advocates call an important step – and even a national model – for alleviating the chaotic and shifting patchwork of municipal and county siting regulations that can create great uncertainty and moving goalposts for wind developers.

The rule, drafted by the state’s Public Service Commission at the behest of state legislators, sets a limit on how stringent siting and other regulations can be for wind farms under 100 megawatts, but still gives local governments the opportunity to appeal for an exception.

Many states have an agency that issues permits for all major wind farms on a case-by-case basis. However, most states lack uniform, enforceable standards governing wind turbine siting, leaving regulatory decisions to local governments.

This is seldom an issue when wind farms are built in remote areas. But in more densely populated parts of the Midwest, disputes over wind farms have prompted local governments to pass rules that – wind proponents say – are often driven more by local politics and vocal activists than sound science.

In response, wind developers and advocates are increasingly discussing statewide standards or guidelines – like Wisconsin’s new rules – that still allow local input while imposing some objectivity and uniformity on the siting process.

RENEW Wisconsin executive director Michael Vickerman said the law – the result of a three-year process involving advocates, developers and state and local officials – should be key in helping the state continue to develop its ample wind resources and help prevent local governments from passing “de facto moratoria” on wind farms, as has happened throughout the Midwest in recent years. . . .

‘An absurdly large setback’
Chuck Burdick, senior wind energy developer of Minneapolis-based National Wind, wishes Minnesota would adopt a rule similar to Wisconsin’s. National Wind’s proposed 78-megawatt wind farm in Goodhue County is in limbo since county officials in October passed an ordinance mandating setbacks of 10 rotor diameters – about 2,700 feet for National Wind’s project – from non-participating landowners (Wisconsin’s rules limit setbacks to no more than 1,250 feet).

The state Public Utilities Commission, which grants permits for wind farms on a case-by-case basis, has asked an administrative law judge to decide whether it should honor the county’s regulation. A final decision could take months, jeopardizing federal stimulus funding that is contingent on the $180 million project going online by the end of 2011.

“We’d been pursuing this permit for a year well in excess of existing rules, then at the last minute the rules changed under us,” said Burdick, noting the PUC has approved several other wind farms with 1,000-foot setbacks in recent months. “This is just ridiculous, it’s an absurdly large setback the county is asking for, and it’s not about health or safety, it’s about politics.”

Under Minnesota’s rules, wind farms under 25 megawatts must be set back at least 500 feet from non-participating property owners, and PUC spokesman Dan Wolf said the agency also considers that a baseline requirement for larger projects.


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