Unnecessary obstacles

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 12, 2009
The single biggest constraint on increasing wind generation of electricity in Wisconsin is the permitting process, according to Clean, Responsible Energy for Wisconsin’s Economy, a group working on implementing the recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming. And one of the biggest problems in the permitting process is local opposition to wind farms.

CREWE has said that over 600 megawatts of planned wind developments are stalled across Wisconsin “due to midstream changes in regulations and procedures.” The Journal Sentinel’s Thomas Content pointed out in an article on Monday that more than a dozen wind projects around the state have been slowed by local opposition.

That can’t continue. What’s needed, as CREWE officials argue, is regulatory reform and, specifically, uniform siting standards for all wind farms that would be built in the state. Such legislation has been introduced. It deserves adoption by the Legislature.

A report released Monday by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs said that cutting carbon dioxide emissions won’t be cheap, but delaying action on addressing global warming will be worse, both for the environment and the Midwest economy, according to another article by Content. The group is urging that the Midwest turn the challenge of energy and climate change into a competitive advantage and says enactment of greenhouse gas regulations is “essential to the Midwest’s future prosperity and competitiveness.”

A recent study has preliminarily concluded that winds may be slowing in parts of the country because of global warming. However, the findings are still speculative, and those changes appear to be less in states bordering the Great Lakes. Wind power, we’re confident, still can play a key part in a balanced energy mix and help to develop the green economy in Wisconsin and create new jobs.

Wisconsin has made significant progress on wind energy, but wind power still accounts for only about 5% of the power supply. That needs to be improved. Transportation difficulties, budget cuts and competition from other states are also obstacles to that improvement, and each needs to be dealt with.

But Wisconsin can improve its position, and the first step is approving uniform wind siting regulations for the state. Local officials and residents should still have a say, and not every project deserves approval. Some sites are clearly better than others. But the best way to deal with developing new sites is to have a uniform wind siting standard on which developers and energy companies can rely.

Wisconsin can do great things with wind and other alternative sources of energy. The time to start is now.

State should regulate wind farm siting

A letter to the editor by James E. Becher, Norwalk, in the La Crosse Tribune on June 2, 2009:

The situation here at Ridgeville, town of Wilton, Monroe County Wis., is a prime example why the state needs to overrule these unrealistic ordinances with normal setbacks (500 feet property line dwelling to 1,000 feet, no greater) allowing a wind farm here in Monroe County.

(Aren’t we fortunate the NIMBYs weren’t here when the power lines came through? With greater setbacks, we may not have electricity.)

Recent polls in a local newspaper resulted in about 85 percent in Monroe County favoring wind power. That makes only 15 percent against it.

In 2005, about 45 landowners signed easements with Invenergy LLC, a reputable wind company, looking forward to construction in 2006. A committee drew up an ordinance approved by the state, county, towns, landowners and wind company — no problems.

Then the anti-wind group (NIMBYs) formed, holding many “mis-informational” meetings, hiring six lawyers, plus many speakers with negative, fictional stories — sending DVDs, pictures, propaganda, etc. to every household in Monroe County and beyond, pestering people until their resistance wore them down, persuading them to join the group.

Some were elected to our town boards to veto the approved ordinance, halting construction, then drawing up their own restrictive ordinance, preventing all wind farms from ever coming in here, ruining our wind farm business, income and taking away our landowner rights.

Prime examples why proper-normal setbacks are so important: calculating normal setbacks means 1 turbine per 40-acre plot; calculating greater setback requires four 40-acre plots, leaving very few landowners eligible.

We commend Sen. Jeff Plale and Rep. Jim Soletski and the other legislators co-sponsoring the two bills to bring statewide wind siting to Wisconsin, helping the energy crisis.

PSC Sensible Agency for Wind Rule-Making

SB 185/AB 256 direct the Public Service Commission (PSC) to initiate an administrative rule-making process to establish statewide siting standards for wind energy projects. The bill draft requires the PSC to establish an advisory committee of diverse interests to advise the Commission on the rules. The legislature will have the opportunity to review the proposed rules prior to their publication.

+ The PSC is an independent regulatory agency dedicated to serving the public interest. The agency is responsible for the regulation of more than 1,100 Wisconsin public utilities, including those that are municipally-owned.
+ The PSC works to ensure that, in the absence of competition, adequate and reasonably priced service is provided to utility customers. The PSC has oversight on every form of electric generation in the state.
+ Alternatives to bypass the PSC are designed to introduce more delay and confusion into the siting process. Additional layers of bureaucracy only serve to reinforce the siting stalemate.
+ Under the bill the PSC would establish a unique, comprehensive review of siting issues. Any attempt to predict the rule-making is speculative at best.
+ The PSC is the agency with the expertise to provide the appropriate scientific, fact based review of issues related to siting wind energy projects. The bill does not specify any siting requirements but establishes a process to review the relevant health and safety issues.

“I pledge to you a rule-making process which will be open and inclusive…The Commission will continue to be a fair partner with local government to ensure that the siting process is equitable to all, and that decisions are made in a timely and transparent way…The PSC’s rulemaking process is as open and inclusive a process as any.”(Joint public hearing May 12, 2009)
-Eric Callisto, PSC Chairman

Wind Siting Reform Supports State Policy

SB 185/AB 256 will improve the regulatory climate in Wisconsin and advance current state energy policy. The erratic permitting environment for wind projects means that state policy is being blocked at the local level.

+ Current law requires that 10 percent of utilities’ electrical sales be generated from renewable resources by 2015.
+ Wind will be the workhorse for Wisconsin utilities. Between 75% and 95% of the energy needed to meet the 10% statewide target will be generated with wind.
+ The single biggest constraint to increasing wind generation in Wisconsin is the permitting environment, which is far more problematic here than in neighboring states.
+ Regulatory uncertainty increases project costs, harming Wisconsin ratepayers. The absence of statewide siting standards forces wind energy out of state forfeiting Wisconsin jobs and investment while adding transmission costs.

“We support SB 185/AB 256…Industrial customers are very concerned about electric rates and their impact on jobs in state. We want to do everything we can to hold down rates here in Wisconsin to keep our jobs here and stay competitive…This bill is one way of mitigating these costs. Wind is the only resource that will meet the current 10% renewable mandate. (Joint public hearing May 12, 2009)
-Todd Stuart, Executive Director of WIEG

“Wisconsin is counting on wind power to propel the state 90 percent of the way toward meeting a goal of more than doubling the renewable energy contribution to electric needs over the next six years.”
-Wisconsin State Journal (“A win for wind power in Wisconsin”)

“Wind power is not a passing fad. It has to be a part of the solution to weaning the U.S. from fossil fuels…Wisconsin has chosen to be a leader, not a follower in the use of renewable sources of energy.”
-Sheboygan Press (“Have uniform rules for siting wind turbines”)