Neighbors irritated by We Energies’ continued search for Glacier Hills Wind Park easements have won the right to review changes to a project the state approved two months ago.
“If they don’t need easements to build the project, then why are they still bothering nonparticipants?” said Friesland resident Gary Steinich. “We didn’t ask for this fight.”
Steinich and other Columbia County landowners who chose not to negotiate with We Energies to give up land for the estimated $434 million wind farm formed the nonprofit group Neighbors Caring About Neighbors.
That group, responding to the utility’s interest in easements, sought and received intervener status Wednesday with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin for the project.
As an intervener, the group has access to, can comment on and can request PSC review of any changes We Energies makes to the project. The group’s argument, Steinich said, is the utility should not still be seeking easements if the state approved the project and ruled complete the application for the wind farm.
But We Energies still is deciding if it needs to change its original project plan. The utility intended to build 90 turbines, but the PSC’s January approval established 1,250-foot setbacks from properties, even though We Energies wanted 1,000-foot setbacks.
The utility still wants to build 90 turbines and is seeking easements to establish the quickest connection routes between the turbines, said We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey. He said utility representatives since the PSC approval have approached those landowners who had not agreed to give up land to ask for waivers and easements so We Energies would have more room to connect the turbines with transmission cables.
“We haven’t made a final determination on the number of turbines or where all the interconnects will go,” Manthey said. “We expect to have that information sometime in April.”
Technically, the utility, by approaching landowners, is following the guidelines in the PSC’s approval of the project, said Dan Sage, assistant administrator in the PSC’s gas and energy division. The commission’s approval had 29 conditions, including reducing the number of turbines in some areas and seeking alternate sites for some turbines and transmission lines, he said.
Still, Manthey said, even without the easements, the project can and will proceed.
If that’s the case, Steinich said, the utility should not bother the neighbors.
“Why didn’t they state that they needed these easements in the original application?” he said. “Why didn’t they just build the project?”
According to the group’s intervener request, We Energies’ application to build the wind farm explained the utility “possesses the necessary control of lands required for alternative and preferred turbine sites, cables and roads … via easements and easement and purchase options.”
Manthey said the utility simply wants to make sure it investigates all options for connecting the lines before building the farm. Unless the group’s request delays the project, construction should begin this summer, he said.
The group can accept that inevitability, but the neighbors just want to be left alone, Steinich said.
“Obviously, none of us like the wind farm, but our goal here is not to stop it,” he said. “There’s no contesting of the PSC decision. They made it. We’ll live with it.”