Deadline pressure and 100 amendments are cracking the unity of the state‘s Wind Siting Council as it strives to agree on turbine placement standards.
Even the definition of agreement is a point of contention among the 15 members. The state law that formed the council requires only that the panel make recommendations that will go to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin and, ultimately, the state Legislature.
But some council members insist they will testify against recommendations not based on a consensus vote.
“I told them they can come in with studies and articles and hearsay,” said Larry Wunsch, a Brownsville resident and council member. “I come in with experience. I live in a wind farm, and I can tell you what it looks like and how it sounds.
“But if they’re going to go with majority rule, then, yeah, I would argue against it at future hearings.”
The council is designed to establish turbine placement standards for wind farms that generate less than 100 megawatts of electricity. The PSC already reviews wind farms that generate more than 100 megawatts.
The PSC intends to finalize rules based on the council’s recommendations by Sept. 1, PSC spokeswoman Teresa Weidemann-Smith said.
Public hearings on draft rules begin next week, and the public comment period for recommendations ends July 7.
That puts the council on a tight timeline to finish its work, said Michael Vickerman, a member of the council and executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization focused on clean energy.
The council also is working through 100 amendments members proposed for the draft rules. But George Krause Jr., a council member, said the panel is moving through those amendments too fast.
“If we’re going to put something together, we need the proper time to get something done,” he said. “This is a very challenging process, and I’ve found this to be a very, very challenging council to sit on.”
But disagreement over amendments such as setbacks from property lines — rather than from buildings — is slowing the council’s progress. Although some members on Monday argued for property lines, the majority sided with setbacks from buildings.
Wunsch, who wanted setbacks from property lines, said similar divisions are forming around many council discussions. The final product, he said, could be based on the majority’s opinion rather than the full council’s.
“When it comes to property values, setback, sound and shadow flicker, I don’t think there’s going to be consensus,” Wunsch said. “I think it’s a pro-wind heavy council. I’m not there to say I’m anti-wind. I think we’ve had some good dialogue. But we have to address every issue.”
Tom Meyer, another commission member, said he too would oppose a final rule based on majority rather than consensus.
“I don’t think our role is to make turbine business easier in Wisconsin,” he said. “It’s to make rules. This isn’t a matter of compromise; it’s a matter of science.”
Vickerman said he doubts there will be consensus. But, he said, the council represents a wide array of experience and interest, and the PSC and Legislature must take that into account when approving rules for wind turbine placement.
“Those who oppose wind have already made their minds up,” Vickerman said. “We can have a dialogue with them, but I don’t think we can have a meeting of the minds.”