Morrison residents are skeptical that a proposed wind farm will be an economic generator for the town, so they are raising their taxes to find out for themselves.
“In order to get something, you’ve got to have some money,” said Morrison resident Beverly Kocian. “This project needs more investigating. They say there’s going to be jobs, but you can’t tell me the people around here are going to be working on these turbines.”
Kocian said she opposes Chicago-based Invenergy LLC’s proposal for the Ledge Wind Farm in Brown County, which would put 54 turbines in Morrison, but the decision to raise taxes is not a townwide statement against the project. She said it will give the town money to pay for its own research into the project.
But the move is taking others around the state by surprise.
“If any rural town is agreeing to raise taxes in this kind of economy, I think it sends a clear sign there’s something they’re very worried about,” said Lynda Barry-Kawula, co-founder of Better Plan Wisconsin, a volunteer group representing residents affected by wind farm development. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
According to Morrison Town Chairman Todd Christensen, the tax increase will average $45 per $100,000 of taxable property value and will raise up to $50,000. The money will pay for attorney fees and engineering studies. Town residents want to learn whether setback distances can be increased, whether the number of turbines could be reduced and how the wind farm will affect groundwater and local roads.
“We want to make our case to the (Public Service Commission of Wisconsin),” Christensen said, “and we need to be prepared.”
Invenergy was not surprised by the town’s decision, said development manager Kevin Parzyck.
“Each town needs to look out for their best interests,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise or concern us. We’re working with the town to address the concerns they have, and we’ll continue to do so.”
But Bill Rakocy, co-founder of Hubertus-based Emerging Energies of Wisconsin LLC, said the town’s move is out of step with the state’s goal of deriving 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.
“It would be a terrible shame if we had towns raising taxes just for the sake of creating lawsuits and not trying to make a better source of energy right here in Wisconsin,” he said. “It seems counterproductive to me.”
There is no timeline for the Ledge project. The PSC is reviewing Invenergy’s application. Parzyck said the company might also change its application depending on what setback standards the PSC Wind Siting Council creates for the state. Those standards are expected this summer.
Invenergy’s application calls for turbines to be 1,000 feet from residential buildings, but Parzyck said the PSC mandated 1,250-foot setbacks for the recently approved Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County.
Beyond setback distances, Kocian said she wants to know how the project will affect local residents and town land. She said she also wants to know what happens when turbines no longer are serviceable and whether they will be removed. If that information costs her some more money, she said, so be it.
And if that’s the attitude of local residents, Christensen said, he’s willing to back the decision.
“I don’t like raising taxes,” he said. “We spend what we get in and we live within our means. But I would say this money is being used to look into the health and welfare of our community.”