By Paul Snyder
Opponents of a proposed 90-turbine wind farm in Columbia County are competing against a development deal that would give local town budgets some much-needed cash.
The estimated $413 million Glacier Hills Wind Park would be built in the towns of Randolph and Scott, both of which in the past two months signed development agreements with project owner We Energies. Brian Manthey, utility spokesman, said the shared revenue from the project annually will bring in $162,000 to Randolph, $108,000 to Scott and $378,000 to Columbia County.
There is no guarantee the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, which has final authority over the project, will approve the wind farm based on the towns’ support, “but we’re confident we’ll be able to get this,” Manthey said.
Randolph Town Chairman David Hughes said he does not care which way the state rules on the project, which would generate 162 megawatts of electricity. Local governments need money to pay for long deferred road and maintenance projects, he said, so municipal opposition to the project is unlikely.
“If it goes, fine,” Hughes said. “If not, fine. I understand people’s concerns, but there’s a difference between believing it and it actually being real. If we don’t get this project, we’ll still get by.”
The development deal did not prevent project opponents from showing up at the first of three PSC technical hearings Monday. The commission accepted testimony from people who live on the proposed Glacier Hills site or near the utility’s Blue Sky Green Field wind farm near Fond du Lac.
Jeffrey Bump, for instance, spoke of his concern that the wind turbine noise or shadow-flicker will cause health problems. Gerry Meyer, a neighbor of the Blue Sky Green Field farm, said those concerns became reality for him when the project was built.
Bob Welch, spokesman for the Coalition for Wisconsin Environmental Stewardship, said the Glacier Hills project would require turbines to be built 1,000 feet from properties and that is simply too close.
Welch said his group does not oppose the Glacier Hills project or the state’s laws for wind farm placement. But his group wants to make sure people’s concerns are heard.
“The concern is always there that utilities are just going to try to steamroll us,” Welch said. “But we do get the feeling the PSC are listening.
“If they approve the project as is, then that’s a disappointment. But until then, we’re going to keep a happy face and listen to what they have to say.”