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After 5-year drought, wind power may pick up across state

Wind turbines that make up the Forward Energy Center dot the horizon Tuesday in the town of Oakfield and town of Byron. Wisconsin lawmakers are proposing legislation that would make it easier to sue wind farms. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Wind turbines that make up the Forward Energy Center dot the horizon in the towns of Oakfield and Byron recently. After a five-year hiatus, wind farm construction could begin again this year. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Wind power may be about to pick up in Wisconsin after a five-year drought.

No major wind farms have been built in the state in the past five years. Glacier Hills Wind Park, the last major wind farm built in Wisconsin, opened in Columbia County in the south-central part of the state in 2011.

But that may be about to change. Nearly 50 wind turbines could be built east of Platteville in southwestern Wisconsin over the next year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

After completing prep work this year, EDP Renewables, a global renewable energy company based in Spain, hopes to build the Lafayette County wind farm in 2017, according to Vanessa Tutos, the firm’s director of government affairs.

The project is valued at about $200 million. The wind farm would generate up to 99 megawatts of electricity, which is just under the threshold that would require it to obtain a permit from the state Public Service Commission.

And state regulators are taking another look at a proposed $250 million wind farm in western Wisconsin.

Emerging Energies of Wisconsin wants to build 44 large wind turbines in St. Croix County. Residents have opposed the Highland Wind Farm project, but the PSC decided at its weekly meeting Friday to reopen the case.

A permit granted by the commission to allow the project to proceed was challenged in court. Last summer Judge Edward Vlack sent the case back to the commission for more work on noise restrictions to protect people living near wind turbines.

Representatives of Emerging Energies told town officials in St. Croix County last month that they hope to revive support for the project, which would be built in the town of Forest.

Company officials cite the economic benefits of the project, not only in jobs but also the boost it would give to homeowners and municipal and county budgets, Emerging Energies president Bill Rakocy said.

In addition to negotiating leases with property owners who would have turbines on their land, Emerging Energies also has negotiated “good neighbor” payments for residents who would have turbines nearby. In addition, the town of Forest and St. Croix County would be eligible for annual economic impact fees that would exceed $400,000 a year.

“We’ve kind of been quiet and respectful of the court system and stayed on the sidelines and allowed everything to play out, now that the court has spoken and the PSC is dealing with the issue,” Rakocy said. “We just felt it was time for us to re-engage, or hit the reset button.”

But opposition to the project has not diminished, said Brenda Salseg, spokeswoman for the group The Forest Voice. Residents are still concerned about health effects from noise and shadow flicker from wind turbines, she said.

“These huge industrial wind energy complexes don’t belong in residential areas near people’s homes,” Salseg said.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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