The wind power debate is muddled enough without a couple of ill-advised bills that have been introduced into the Wisconsin Legislature. Under these proposed laws, the Public Service Commission would be required to make up setback requirements and other restrictions which local governments could impose. As is common in many areas of law, municipalities are currently forbidden from imposing any rule more restrictive than the state’s rule.
Although local ideas should prevail in some cases, this is not one of them.
While most of us may think of the ranks of giant wind turbines marching to the horizon in central Wisconsin, this proposed law would affect the smaller installations, the turbine which a business wants to erect to cut its costs or which a homeowner wants to install to help power his Christmas lights. Such projects are not necessarily large nor intrusive (think about Gateway Technical College’s wind turbine installation in Racine), and a nonintrusive property use should not be subject to local whims.
Whim is precisely what it will be because, despite legions of complaints, there is a lack of solid proof that wind turbines cause problems.
One of the bills sponsored by state Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, would delay local restraints until the state Department of Health Services provides a study on the health effects of living near wind turbines. Anyone who has followed the issue knows that for years people who live near turbines have complained of headaches, stress and other ailments. But the turbines don’t seem to be the cause. A review of scientific studies published in a Canadian environmental health journal found that while illnesses do exist, if people don’t like wind turbines to begin with and see wind turbines, they are likely to report illnesses. In other words, their own stress about wind power seems to be the cause of their problems.
Public policy choices about subjects such as wind power need to be made through a balanced process.
Local voices must have a place in public debates, and they do. That is what public hearings and letters to the editor are for. But these initiatives should not all be subject to a local vote of approval. No one will invest in any of this new technology and progress will stall if investments are likely to be negated by a momentary shift in the local political wind.
The Journal Times, Racine.