Calumet County officials are one-upping an appeals court ruling overturning a wind farm ordinance by slamming the door on all such projects until further notice.
The County Board of Supervisors has passed a moratorium on all new wind farm projects until the end of the year or until the county passes zoning ordinance with turbine setback distances and noise limits.
“The reason for doing it is simple,” said Chester Dietzen, a county supervisor and chairman of the county’s Planning and Zoning Committee. “We can slow down wind development until we get our ducks in a row with the ordinance.”
When the District II Court of Appeals last week ruled the county’s wind farm ordinance exceeded state policy regulating the developments, wind energy proponents said the decision was a first step toward cleaning up the patchwork of such county and municipal ordinances in the state.
Dietzen said County Board members worried the ruling would lead to an onslaught of new proposals, but so far, he said, that has not been the case.
“It’s just the same old garbage,” he said. “The Ecker proposal and the EcoEnergy proposal are still out there.”
Marvin Ecker Jr. in 2005 tipped off the wind farm debate when he built the first modern turbine in the county.
He planned to build more, but the county placed a moratorium on the developments until approving an ordinance establishing setbacks and noise limits.
When the ordinance passed, Ecker sued, calling it too restrictive. Counter lawsuits followed seeking stiffer regulations.
Elgin, Ill.-based EcoEnergy Engineering LLC tried for more than two years to build a wind farm in Chilton, but project manager Curt Bjurlin said the developer has given up.
“We’ve decided to stay out of Wisconsin until statewide standards are set,” he said. “We’ve pulled back, and I don’t think we’ll be heading back into Calumet County anytime soon.”
Ecker, meanwhile, still wants new turbines, said his attorney, Elizabeth Gamsky Rich. But she said she will not fight the moratorium if the county is trying to make wind rules less restrictive.
“If the moratorium turns out to just be a blanket restriction on wind, then that’s going to be a problem,” she said. “But I’ve lost a fight against a moratorium before because the court allows time for counties or municipalities to fix the problem.”
Dietzen said the county’s new zoning ordinance could be up for approval next month.
But statewide rules also might be on the way. State Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, authored a bill that would direct the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to determine appropriate setback distances for turbines and wind farm placement. If the bill becomes law, county and municipal ordinances will not be able to exceed state guidelines.
Plale on Wednesday announced the Senate Committee on Commerce, Utilities, Energy and Rail on Aug. 4 will hold an executive session to vote on sending the wind farm bill to the Senate floor. The Assembly version last month passed out of committee. Floor votes for each are expected this fall.
Calumet County’s moratorium can at least temporarily preserve some local control over development, Dietzen said.
“What the ultimate answer is,” he said, “I don’t know.”
Counties and municipalities should have time to think about an answer, Bjurlin said, because they will not get many proposals until the state sets guidelines.
“Some companies may decide to do projects there,” he said. “But for the most part, Wisconsin is just not a very good place to do business right now.”