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Democrats’ plans die under Walker

By Matt Pommer

Escape to Illinois!” proclaims the Illinois Wind Energy Association in the wake of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed new rules on wind turbine siting.

Walker is asking the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass a law that any turbine construction be at least 1,800 feet from the nearest property line unless the adjacent owners agree to a closer turbine.

Rules scheduled to take effect March 1 would keep turbines 1.1 times the height of a turbine — about 450 feet — from the nearest property line and 1,250 feet from any home. Walker’s law would replace those rules.

The rules scheduled to take effect were adopted by the Public Service Commission after months of public hearings on the wind turbine industry. Homeowners don’t want the turbines near their homes. But the state Division of Public Health reviewed scores of scientific and medical reports and concluded the turbines are safe.

Denise Bode, chief executive officer of the American Wind Energy Association, said Walker’s proposal would create “one of the most onerous” regulations in the nation.

The Illinois trade organization said it “is happy to highlight the much more friendly climate just to the South.” According to the Illinois group, the wind-turbine industry had created 10,000 construction jobs in Illinois and 494 permanent jobs in rural areas with a payroll of $25 million.

The new “Escape” exchange comes at a time when Walker is campaigning to lure Illinois firms to Wisconsin. He has picked up the old tourism slogan of “Escape to Wisconsin” in that effort. Walker is basing his campaign largely on the increases in personal and corporate taxes recently enacted in Illinois.

Some editorials have suggested the governor’s proposal seems to be bowing to the Wisconsin Realtors Association, which has been among the more faithful backers of Republican politics.

The PSC rules have been called a compromise. The current Public Service Commissioners are appointees of former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Walker has found few Democratic government ideas he likes.

For example, Walker canceled the proposed use of biomass fuels in a new University of Wisconsin-Madison’s power plant. Walker said natural gas was less expensive. Doyle’s people had backed the biomass idea, saying it would help create jobs in a new industry.

It would have used waste from agribusiness, forestry and paper industries, biomass backers note.

Walker aides said scaling back the project would save between $60 million and $80 million in initial power plant development costs.

Walker also successfully killed the idea of a federally subsidized high-speed train between Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison. It was an idea of the Democratic Obama administration. The hundreds of millions of federal dollars set aside for Wisconsin were shifted to California and Florida.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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