Legislative winds could blow business to Illinois
As Gov. Scott Walker invites Illinois companies to “escape to Wisconsin,” an Illinois nonprofit organization is predicting a mass exodus of wind energy business from the Badger state.
Part of Walker’s proposed special session agenda includes a new regulation that would require wind turbines be set back 1,800 feet from the nearest property line. That would supersede a rule, set to take effect this year, requiring a setback of just 1,250 feet.
“I would assume every company with plans in Wisconsin is leery,” said Kevin Borgia, executive director of the Illinois Wind Energy Association. “That proposal would more or less shut down the state to wind development.
“That’s not something I think Gov. Walker wants to promote — or perhaps it is.”
If it is, Borgia said, companies building wind farms in Wisconsin should consider increasing their business in Illinois. It’s a plea similar to Walker’s efforts to lure Illinois companies to Wisconsin in the wake of higher taxes passed in the Illinois Legislature.
Wind energy company leaders say the southerly migration could happen.
“We’re already more active in Illinois than we are in Wisconsin because of the current regulatory climate,” said Michael Arndt, director of central development for Oregon-based Element Power Ltd.
Walker, though, is responding to concerns of homeowners that their property value could be reduced by proximity to wind farms, spokesman Cullen Werwie said.
“If enacted,” Werwie said, “this legislation will protect private property rights for all Wisconsin citizens.”
But the legislation also would mark the end of Element Power’s business in Wisconsin, Arndt said.
The company is planning to build a 200-megawatt wind project in the northeast part of the state. Arndt would not say how much the company has spent on the project, but he said Element Power would have to abandon the project if the 1,800-foot setback requirement takes effect.
“There would be no way to viably build a utility-scale wind farm in Wisconsin,” he said. “If the regulatory climate is significantly more reasonable in neighboring states, we’ll invest dollars where those dollars are welcome.”
Arndt estimated the project would create up to 200 construction jobs and up to 15 full-time positions.
Midwest Wind Energy LLC, Chicago, also reported it would have to scrap a 98-megawatt project in Calumet County.
The company has been working on it for three years and has dumped “several hundred thousand dollars into that project,” said Timothy Polz, vice president for Midwest Wind Energy.
Polz also said two wind farms the company has completed in Wisconsin could not have been built under the proposed regulations. The company, though, wouldn’t necessarily consider increasing its business in Illinois, Polz said.
“We’re already developing projects in other states,” he said. “This would just preclude our business from happening in Wisconsin.”
A spokeswoman for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said she was unsure whether Quinn would try to recruit wind energy business from Wisconsin.
Borgia, though, said more wind turbines in Illinois would be an inevitable result of tougher regulations in Wisconsin.
“You can’t just pick up a wind farm and move it,” he said. “But if you’ve got plans on the drawing board in both states, where are you going to really focus your energy? You’re going to be in the state with the more friendly permitting environment.”