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State panel dismisses family’s wind farm complaint (UPDATE)

The former home of Ann and Jason Wirtz now sits abandoned near the Forward Energy Wind Center, which went online in 2008 in Brownsville. (Photo by Dave Wasinger)

The former home of Ann and Jason Wirtz now sits abandoned near the Forward Energy Wind Center, which went online in 2008 in Brownsville. (Photo by Dave Wasinger)

By Paul Snyder

A family seeking payback for health, business and property losses allegedly caused by a wind farm suffered a setback Thursday when the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin rejected the complaint.

PSC Chairman Eric Callisto said the commission is not the proper forum for personal injury claims and said Ann and Jason Wirtz, who now live in Oakfield, should take their case to circuit court.

The Wirtzes in April filed their complaint arguing the Forward Wind Energy Center in Dodge County, which went online in 2008, caused sleep deprivation, headaches and stomach problems as well as the loss of an alpaca-breeding business and a decline in their property value. The Wirtzes moved from their home in Brownsville in September 2009 without selling it.

The family directed its complaint at wind farm developer Invenergy LLC, Chicago, though the Wirtzes have not specified how much money they want from Invenergy. The Wirtzes did not comment on the project prior to PSC approval in 2005.

Madison-based attorney Ed Marion, who represents the Wirtzes, said they chose to go to the PSC first instead of suing because the commission regulates energy companies and is charged with protecting the rights and interests of the public.

“We’re disappointed by the decision,” he said, “but not entirely surprised.”

Marion said he does not know what the family will do next. He said a lawsuit is the likely option, though the family could appeal the PSC decision.

The PSC’s decision Thursday was good news to wind developers. Joe Condo, Invenergy’s vice president and general counsel, said the PSC was right to stay out of a personal injury claim filed by a family.

“I’m not going to speculate on what they’re going to do or how we’re going to respond,” he said. “This is not a normal course of action for us.”

Jim Naleid, a managing partner for Holmen-based AgWind Energy Partners LLC, which was not involved in the Forward Wind Energy project, said allegations of health problems, such as those claimed by the Wirtzes, simply were not an issue in 2005 when the PSC approved the Forward project. He said he doubts such allegations will attract attention from state wind farm regulators.

“The claims of physical impacts are a recent phenomenon and something that comes from the anti-wind folks in particular,” he said. “If there was merit on a wide-scale basis, I don’t think the PSC would issue these permits.”

The Wirtzes’ complaints came too late to merit PSC consideration, said Commissioner Mark Meyer. The family, he said, has the right to make its statement for PSC consideration of an upcoming 100-turbine wind farm Invenergy proposes for Brown County, but he said the PSC’s review of Forward ended a long time ago.

“The commission,” he said, “is not in the business of handling private causes of action against utilities.”

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