Wind farm developers are bristling over the possibility they would have to notify local governments when investigating sites for a project.
“Developers want to avoid two things working against a project right from the start,” said Jim Naleid, a managing partner for Holmen-based AgWind Energy Partners LLC. “They do not want to get people up in arms and arouse anti-wind advocates for no reason, and they do not want landowners to start counting money before anything gets developed.”
But town and county leaders argue property negotiations held privately between developers and landowners lead to more battles when the proposal finally becomes public.
“I don’t know the answer to when they must notify towns and other governments, but there has to be some kind of public notice sooner,” said Lloyd Lueschow, a member of the Green County Board of Supervisors.
Lueschow is a member of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin’s Wind Siting Council, a group of industry, local government and clean-energy representatives charged with setting standards for wind turbine placement in Wisconsin.
The council is in the midst of reviewing 37 pages of draft rules, which chairman Dan Ebert called “very rough” and a tool to get the group thinking about final rules.
The draft does not specify when developers would have to provide public notice of a potential wind farm, but there should be a timeline when the final report is finished this summer, Ebert said.
Developers on the council said requiring any public notice before a project is ready to go could spark competing offers or lead to landowners holding out for better offers.
Tom Green, senior project developer in the Madison office of St. Louis-based Wind Capital Group, said his company will sign three-year agreements with landowners for the purposes of evaluating sites. But that does not guarantee a project will happen.
“It’s a complex process to develop wind farms,” he said, “and it would be restrictive for any company doing business in Wisconsin if they had to post a public notice every time they wanted to have a conversation with a landowner.
“I don’t know any other business that’s regulated like that.”
Furthermore, the public already can derail projects before developers make firm plans, Naleid said. AgWind in 2007 put a wind measurement tower in Trempealeau County as a precursor to a possible wind farm, but the tower aroused enough local suspicion to trigger a countywide ordinance that effectively killed the project.
“What happened there was predicated totally on premature conclusions made by anti-wind people,” Naleid said. “Everything was blown out of proportion before anything actually happened.”
Naleid said it’s in developers’ best interest to be upfront and open about their plans with landowners and local governments, but it only makes sense to do so when there are firm plans in place.
Determining when that change takes place, however, will be a tricky task for the council, Lueschow said. If developers have formal plans, he said, it likely means they have land targeted or secured, and if neighbors think a project is a foregone conclusion before there’s been any public input, then the battles begin.
“People accept issues if they can get a fair kick at the cat,” he said. “But if a process is hokey, there’s going to be no end of troubles.”