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Wind farm fight draws Capitol response (UPDATE)

By Paul Snyder

A wind farm dispute in Dodge County is catching the attention of state lawmakers who worry the case could affect the future of renewable energy development.

“I think this is a Pandora’s box that could lead to all sorts of unnecessary litigation,” said state Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee. “And I think it’s the kind of decision the state Legislature would have to take up in some form.”

Chicago-based Invenergy LLC and Oakfield residents Ann and Jason Wirtz are awaiting Public Service Commission action on a complaint the Wirtzes filed earlier this month. The Wirtzes are claiming damages as a result of the Forward Energy Wind Center, which went online in 2008 in Brownsville.

The Wirtzes claim family members suffered health problems, the noise from nearby turbines cost them their alpaca-breeding business and a lack of interest from homebuyers led them to abandon their property in September.

But in a response filed last week, Invenergy argued the dispute is not within the PSC’s jurisdiction and finding in favor of the family would “inappropriately counteract” the state Legislature√≠s policy favoring development of alternative energy.

State Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, said he disagrees with Invenergy’s argument.

Although the state has a goal of generating 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015, the state Legislature last week did not vote on the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would have established more renewable energy policies. Wisconsin also is waiting on recommendations from a PSC-directed council that will determine appropriate placement of wind turbines throughout the state.

For now, Plale said, the state’s policies on renewable energy development are scattershot at best.

“They’re evolving on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis,” he said. “The Legislature just got the ball rolling with respect to wind farms, and I think policies will change complexion a few times yet.”

But Joe Condo, Invenergy’s vice president and general counsel, said developers want certainty for projects, and a wind-development policy in flux will deter future projects.

That argument failed to sway the Wirtzes’ Madison-based attorney, Edward Marion, who said the family was not out of line in asking for a PSC judgment, and the complaint does not affect future renewable energy development.

“In terms of precedent or that old argument about slippery slope, I don’t see it,” he said. “As far as I know, this is the first time anyone has filed a claim like this, and they’re the only ones thinking about filing this kind of claim.”

PSC Spokeswoman Teresa Weidemann-Smith said the commissioners have not yet scheduled a discussion on the case.

The Legislature should take note of the PSC’s decision, said state Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover. But arguing the state favors renewable energy and cannot be questioned, he said, is flimsy.

“I don’t think there’s anyone,” he said, “who thinks the laws on the books right now will still be there five years from now.”

But if five years from now, Wisconsin families can sue over projects already approved and operating, it would be a business killer, Honadel said. A PSC judgment in favor of the Wirtzes, he said, would set a dangerous precedent.

“The minute you open the door for someone to become compensated because they don’t like what’s happening next door,” he said, “you open yourself up for more to follow.”

One comment

  1. Rep. Honadel should spend 30 nights in the Wirtz abandoned home with his family before he makes any uniformed final decision about unnecessary litigation, or who has the right to do what. The Legislature had it’s opportunity to take up the siting issue but was quick to pass it on to the PSC. The PSC staff members have done an excellent job of preparing the first draft of the new siting rules.

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