Wisconsin State Journal, March 18, 2009
Wisconsin Power & Light’s plans to look more toward the wind as a power source should underscore for lawmakers the need to support wind farm development.

Wisconsin cannot afford to let the statewide interest in harnessing clean, renewable power from the wind be frustrated by local “not in my backyard” campaigns against wind farms.

The goal should be to adopt statewide standards for siting wind farms that limit local government regulation and provide developers with an opportunity to appeal. The standards should also preserve local authority to restrict or reject wind farms when warranted.

Interest in wind power is growing following state regulators’ rejection last year of a new coal-fired power plant proposed by WPL, As an alternative to coal, the utility planning to develop more wind, biomass and natural gas power sources.

Other power companies are following a similar strategy.

Wind is the key element, projected to meet 90 percent of Wisconsin’s goal to more than double the renewable energy contribution to electric needs over the next six years.

But wind power confronts a barrier.

Developers of small wind farms, unlike developers of large wind farms, fall outside the regulation of the state Public Service Commission. They left to local regulation.

Too often, local governments are cowed by “not in my backyard” worries about the impact of wind turbines — worries that may be based on misinformation but that local governments lack the expertise to evaluate.

The result is impossible-to-meet restrictions that draw small wind farm development to halt.

For example, in 2007 Trempealeau County adopted a wind power ordinance so restrictive that it effectively banned wind farms.

A solution emerged with a proposal to require the PSC to issue model rules specifying what restrictions local governments could impose on wind farms. The bill also granted developers a right to appeal.

Lawmakers failed to pass the proposal last year. This year should make that legislation a top priority.