PSC needs to establish firm wind rules
From an editorial in the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter:
It is becoming increasingly difficult to gauge which way the political winds are blowing when it comes to establishing rules on siting wind farms in Wisconsin.
The state Public Service Commission isn’t close to coming up with a solution that would appease wind developers on the one hand and property owners, who claim turbines affect their health, on the other.
The Manitowoc County Board in September voted against a one-year moratorium on large wind turbine construction in the county, in effect saying it is growing impatient with the PSC.
Developers are growing increasingly impatient. Tim Polz, vice president of Midwest Wind Energy of Chicago, said his company was ready to develop a large wind farm in neighboring Calumet County but put it on hold because of the uncertainty about state siting rules. The company had spent three years and about $1 million developing the project.
“Right now, we just don’t have a path forward in Wisconsin,” Polz said. “The uncertainty is just too much now.”
Into the mix comes State Sen. Frank Lasee, R-Bellevue, who earlier this week introduced a bill that would require a statewide moratorium on future wind turbines until the PSC receives a report from the Department of Health Services regarding the health impacts on people and animals.
It is uncertain how far such a report is away, or how long it would take.
Gov. Scott Walker earlier introduced a bill to increase — from 450 feet to 1,800 feet — setbacks for wind turbines from the nearest property line.
That proposal was lauded by wind industry critics and the real estate industry, but officials in the wind industry said the governor’s proposal would ruin their business in Wisconsin.
Manitowoc County rejected in 2009 a developer’s proposal to erect a wind farm in the Mishicot area, in part because of the lack of clear rules and oversight. It is becoming a familiar scenario as the PSC continues to drag its feet.
Firm standards and rules are needed — and quickly. The longer this drags out, the more likely it becomes that local ordinances will conflict with state standards. Local lawmakers are becoming increasingly impatient with the state on this issue.
The longer we go without a firm set of rules, the less confidence local municipalities will have in the PSC’s ability to find a workable solution.
The PSC should build some measure of local control into its solution, but the agency must meet the challenge of becoming the go-to agency on the basic rules of wind tower siting.