January 22, 2009

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Michael Vickerman

Manitowoc County Says “No Can Do” to Windpower Project
The Manitowoc County Board of Adjustment rejected earlier this week a developer’s request for approval to build a seven-turbine wind project west of Two Rivers. The decision marks the latest setback in the project developer’s four-year-long quest to erect a community-scale wind project in the Town of Mishicot.

By contrast, the project developer, Emerging Energies LLP, recently secured a permit to erect eight turbines in the Town of Glenmore in Brown County, about 15 miles from Mishicot.

Under development since 2004, the Mishicot Wind Farm is strongly supported by Wisconsin-based environmental and clean energy groups, including RENEW Wisconsin.

“The Board’s rejection of the Mishicot Wind Farm is certain to send a chill through every Wisconsin developer seeking to construct a community-scale wind project here,” said RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director Michael Vickerman,

Blessed with some of the state’s strongest winds, Manitowoc County adopted a wind ordinance in 2004. Emerging Energies first proposed the Mishicot project in 2005. Progress since that time has been slowed by a countywide moratorium on wind development and the subsequent adoption of one of the most restrictive wind ordinances in Wisconsin.

Among these features is a minimum setback requirement of 1,000 feet from a turbine to a property line. In contrast, Emerging Energies’ permit in the Town of Glenmore specifies a setback of 1.1 times the total turbine height from property lines and public rights-of-way. The total height of a commercial wind turbine–tower plus vertically extended blade–ranges between 350 and 450 feet.

“Suffice it to say that if every jurisdiction adopted Manitowoc County’s setback standards, there would not be a single commercial wind project operating in Wisconsin right now,” Vickerman said.

As part of its application, Emerging Energies offered to provide an annual payment of $77,000 to be allocated equally among the county, the town, and neighboring residences living up to ½ mile away from a turbine. Over a 30-year operating life, the developer’s offer would pump $2.31 million directly into the local economy.

“The irony here is that Manitowoc County has prospered more from wind energy’s rapid expansion in recent years than any other county in Wisconsin,” Vickerman said. “The project site is 15 miles away from a turbine tower fabricating plant (Tower Tech) and a company that manufactures specialty cranes for wind farm construction (Manitowoc Crane Group).

“As a result of the global recession, wind component manufacturers are seeing a slowdown in orders. It is not unreasonable to believe that both Manitowoc companies could use the work,” Vickerman added.

Under Wisconsin’s renewable energy law, 10% of Wisconsin’s electricity must be generated by qualifying energy sources by 2015. RENEW estimates that windpower will contribute more than 75% of that electricity. In the past 12 months alone, 251 utility-scale turbines were installed across Wisconsin totaling 396 megawatts, expanding wind generating capacity by a factor of eight.

Yet a half-dozen projects totaling 600 megawatts of planned wind capacity in Wisconsin, from Grant County in the southwest to Kewaunee County in the northeast, have run into roadblocks, mostly from restrictive ordinances designed to thwart development.

“What happened in Manitowoc County is not an isolated phenomenon,” Vickerman said. “However, the county’s decision to reject the Mishicot project is at odds with state energy policy, which not only favors renewable energy development but also prohibits local jurisdictions from saying no to wind projects except to protect public health and safety.

“If we are serious about preventing local governments from arbitrarily exercising veto power over responsibly designed wind projects, then we have to change the law. Nothing else has worked so far.” Vickerman added.


RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. More information on RENEW’s Web site at