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Wind turbine debate spins toward Sept. 1 deadline

By Paul Snyder

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin is sticking to a firm Sept. 1 deadline to propose wind turbine placement rules despite calls from local governments to wait.

“We had a very clear mandate to get work done quickly,” PSC Chairman Eric Callisto said Tuesday.

“Expediency is important in order to have uniformity and ground rules in place for future wind development.”

Callisto and other PSC staff members this week are traveling throughout the state to hold public hearings on wind turbine placement draft rules based on recommendations from the state’s Wind Siting Council. The council’s goal is to recommend rules for turbine placement on wind farms that generate less than 100 megawatts of electricity. Wind farms that generate more than 100 megawatts are subject to PSC approval.

The council first met in March, and Callisto said then he expected recommendations by July. The PSC will then use those recommendations to make rules by Sept. 1 for review and approval by state lawmakers.

Still, local governments argue the process is moving too fast.

Representatives from the towns of Morrison, Wrightstown and Glenmore in Brown County last week requested the Wind Siting Council first consider a March report by the World Health Organization relating to health problems caused by wind turbines.

Glen Schwalbach, who submitted the request on behalf of the towns, said further review is more important than a year or two delay in setting the turbine placement rules.

“The fact is: We have newer information now that says there are more health implications than some people have believed relating to noise effects,” said Schwalbach, the town supervisor in Rockland, which neighbors the three towns requesting the review. “It’s not just a case of whining or people imagining things.”

Doug Zweizig, the siting council’s co-chairman, said council members do not know why they have to meet the Sept. 1 deadline. He said he thinks itís a mistake to rush a set of recommendations to the PSC.

Zweizig, a Plan Commission member in the town of Union, said his town took about a year and a half to develop a wind farm ordinance.

“It’s clear that they’re trying to pass something as quickly as possible,” he said. “I think the council could have had a much better process, but it went almost immediately to looking at positions of the various members.”

The majority of the 15-member council, Zweizig said, favors wind development, and members who have experience living on wind farms are not being heard.

Callisto said he wants consensus recommendations but will take the majority’s vote if that’s the best he can get.

“It would hold more weight if it was consensus, but I realize how difficult this is,” he said. “It was not unanimous legislation, either.”

The reason for the Sept. 1 deadline, Callisto said, is so Senate and Assembly committees can review and approve the rules before the legislative session ends. Because the turbine placement recommendations would represent rule changes, they would need to be submitted by Sept. 1 during an election year and only would require approval from legislative committees rather than the full Legislature, Callisto said.

He said he wants the same group of lawmakers that formed the council to review the rule change proposals.

If new wind farm studies come along, Callisto said, and groups such as the Brown County towns want more review, there is room for change.

“I think they’re going to be flexible to accommodate new studies,” he said. “Rules get modified all the time. Nothing’s written in stone.”

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