Developers and landowners disagree over a state wind farm council’s three-month schedule to set turbine placement guidelines.
Developers with proposals on deck want the standards soon. Property owners do not want the state to rush a decision.
“These are life-changing decisions that will be made, and you can’t weigh health and safety issues against a three-month timeline,” said Lynda Barry-Kawula, a Spring Valley resident and co-founder of Better Plan Wisconsin, a volunteer group representing residents affected by wind farm development.
The state’s Wind Siting Council, appointed by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, met for the first time Monday in Madison, and PSC Chairman Eric Callisto said he expects the council’s work to be done by July.
The 15-member council was formed through a law passed last year to create common guidelines for wind farms generating less than 100 megawatts of electricity. Currently, the PSC reviews all projects that generate 100 megawatts or more, and local governments create ordinances for projects that generate less.
In addition to determining property setback distances for turbines, the council will review PSC-drafted rules relating to noise levels, shadow flickers on nearby properties and how best to restore sites after utilities decommission wind farms.
The council’s guidelines will govern the smaller wind farms, but also could apply to larger projects.
The lack of uniform standards is costing Wisconsin projects, said Dean Baumgartner, executive vice president of technical services and construction for St. Louis-based Wind Capital Group’s Madison office.
“If the cost of developing wind farms isn’t as competitive here as it is in other states, then developers will look elsewhere,” he said. “And Wisconsin will see that tax base go to other states.”
Baumgartner said Wind Capital Group is considering projects in Wisconsin, but the company will wait until uniform standards are in place. He said he’s encouraged by the PSC’s tight timeline.
The state needs to establish standards as quickly as possible, said Deb Erwin, the PSC’s renewable energy specialist.
“There are a lot of developers waiting,” she said.
The PSC will have a draft set of rules ready for council review in two weeks, at which point council members can raise issues or propose changes for a final version. The council will hold at least two public hearings on the rules — one in Monroe County and one in another county besides Dane County.
Erwin said if the council’s work is not done by July, it can continue to debate changes. But she said the PSC wants a final product this summer.
That worries Gerry Meyer, a Brownsville resident who lives near Chicago-based Invenergy LLC’s Forward Wind Energy Center.
“I don’t know if they can really reach consensus in that time,” he said. “There might be some strong votes, but I think it’s going to go one way, and that’s stacked against landowners.”
Ryan Schryver, a member of the council and grass-roots organizer for Madison-based Clean Wisconsin Inc., said the aggressive timeline is good and concerned landowners will get a chance to air their concerns.
“I think the PSC’s been pretty clear about taking the existing ordinances and the changes to the public, and I think that will continue,” he said. “We’re committed to getting the public involved.”