Developer Anticipates Legal Fight In Wisconsin

Mark Del Franco
Written by Mark Del Franco
on September 10, 2010 No Comments
Categories : New & Noteworthy

New siting and permitting guidelines in Wisconsin will likely help wind development in the state for the long-term. However, the potential for near-term legal challenges from anti-wind opponents has one developer concerned.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) completed its wind turbine siting rules on Aug. 30. The rules were drafted in response to the 2009 Wisconsin Act 40 – recently enacted legislation directing the PSC to foster rules that specify restrictions that local governments may impose on the installation or use of wind energy systems.

If approved, the PSC's rules will function as a uniform ceiling of standards to guide the local regulation of wind siting, operation and decommissioning for projects less than 100 MW in generating capacity. The rules specify how a political subdivision can establish setback requirements, noise and shadow-flicker standards, and mechanisms that give nonparticipating landowners a stake in wind energy projects sited in their area.

The rules also establish complaint resolution requirements for wind energy system owners, and a process for requesting political subdivision review of unresolved complaints. A political subdivision's decision on review of a complaint may be appealed to the PSC.

The PSC sent the rules to the state legislature on Sept. 7 for review and final approval, which starts a 30-day procedure. Should the legislature need more information or have questions, it could extend the period by an additional 30 days. For more on the Wisconsin rules, click here.

However, the rules likely will not help near-term development escape pressure from a small but vocal contingent of wind project opponents.

‘The new laws were intended to help, but I don't perceive the opponents are going to lie down because of them,’ says Michael Donahue, executive vice president/co-owner of Midwest Wind Energy, a development company. ‘The first developer [to go before the PSC] will likely be the target of legal challenges.’ He adds that the company's 98 MW Stony Brook wind project in Calumet County, Wis., could be among the first wind projects involved in a legal fight.

Donahue expects the opposition will claim adverse health effects tied to issues such as noise and shadow flicker because opponents have no legal grounds to sue on the actual reason, which is adverse view-shed effects, he says.

‘Wisconsin is a tricky state for wind development,’ says Donahue, adding that rules regarding siting and permitting differ from county to county. ‘Farmers and ranchers support wind energy. It's the non-farming residents who tend to oppose wind farms.’

Midwest Wind Energy is no stranger to wind development in the state. Previously, the company developed the 67.65 MW Cedar Ridge project, later selling it to Alliant Energy in July 2006. The project became commercially operational in 2008.

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