Wisconsin lawmakers weary of wind setback issue
From an article by Dan Haugen on Midwest Energy News:
Wisconsin’s politically contested wind-turbine siting rules would quietly go back on the books if the state’s legislature doesn’t take up the issue this session.
While it’s premature for wind energy supporters to declare victory, the rules’ opponents appear to have little appetite for reopening the controversy, according to observers.
“This is an issue they don’t want to have anything to do with right now,” says Michael Vickerman, director of Renew Wisconsin, a renewable energy advocacy group. “It’s kind of reached the radioactive phase.”
The first-in-the-nation rules were aimed at streamlining the messy, often shifting patchwork of local setback rules, which govern the distance wind developers need to leave between turbines and adjacent homes. A 2009 law instructed regulators to comes up with a statewide setback policy. After two years of hearings and debate, they issued rules restricting turbines from within 1,250 feet of neighboring residences.
On the day the rules were to take effect last March, however, a Republican-controlled legislative committee voted along party lines to suspend the statewide rules. Gov. Scott Walker instead proposed an 1,800-foot setback from the nearest property line, which the American Wind Energy Association said would essentially shut down the state’s wind industry.
Since then, wind developers have cited regulatory uncertainty in suspending or canceling five major developments totaling $1.6 billion in economic investment. Vickerman says wind energy supporters have successfully highlighted the economic consequences of Walker’s action, which is why party leadership seems to have lost interest in the fight.
“These guys are afraid because the issue has boomeranged on them,” says Vickerman. “Scott Walker does not really want to be known as someone who has killed jobs by basically shutting down the commercial wind industry in Wisconsin, and neither do the legislative leaders.”