More than eight hours of public testimony mostly opposed to state guidelines for wind farm placement did little to kill bills that would limit local control of the energy developments.
“It just underscores the reason why we need the bill,” said state Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee. “These are the discussions that need to be happening, and they won’t happen unless there is a forum.”
But several residents of towns and counties that either host wind farms or are considering wind farm proposals said the discussion needs to stop.
“Everything I’ve heard from (wind farm supporters) has been about jobs and money,” said Don Mitchell, who lives in the town of Magnolia, which recently passed a wind farm ordinance. “There’s been nothing about health. We need to stop what we’re doing until we know what we’re doing.”
Identical state Senate and Assembly bills — steered, respectively, by Plale and state Rep. James Soletski, D-Green Bay — received a joint public hearing Tuesday with construction industry representatives and environmental advocates supporting statewide wind farm standards and many residents questioning the bills.
The bills would not create the standards or determine where in Wisconsin wind farms should be built, but the legislation would let the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin draft a set of statewide standards for legislative review.
The argument for the bill is that town and county ordinances vary greatly and deter wind developers from building farms to Wisconsin because there are too many hurdles.
Several wind farm developers spoke Tuesday about the state’s difficult reputation and a general disinterest to work in Wisconsin without uniform standards.
In addition to missing out on an estimated $3.5 million for each wind turbine not built in Wisconsin, the state also is sitting on proposed projects that would generate 600 megawatts of electricity, said R.J. Pirlot, director of legislative relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.
Terry McGowan, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139, said Wisconsin is hemorrhaging construction jobs thanks to its patchwork set of ordinances.
“Good jobs are lost to Iowa and Minnesota,” he said. “Our members travelled to those states to find salaries and feed their families.”
Mark Reihl, executive director of the Wisconsin State Council of Carpenters, said more than 20 percent of his members are unemployed and he wants to get them back to work.
“We talk a lot about green jobs in this state,” he said. “Well, now we have a chance to do something about getting them.”
It is disappointing, Plale said, that Wisconsin is missing out on so many development opportunities.
“And it’s a sad commentary for this state,” he said, “when we’re out there saying we want more renewable energy.”
But not all lawmakers agreed. State Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, D-Manitowoc, said the bills are an attempt by the state to usurp developmental control from local governments.
“This is a power grab,” he said, “couched in the usual excuses — artificially created minimum requirements for alternative power generation, speculative theories about man-made global warming, impatience with local decision making and frustration with due process.”
But Plale said the bills are just a start.
“We’re not creating an answer,” he said. “We’re creating a mechanism for this discussion to take place.”