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Friday, February 8, 2008

Blowin' in the wind

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 26, 2008
"The way things stand now, it's easier to build a 100-megawatt wind farm in this state than it is to put up two or three turbines." So says Roy Thilly, chairman of the state's Task Force on Global Warming and president of Wisconsin Public Power Inc., a consortium of municipally owned utilities, on local ordinances that tend to restrict the development of small wind farms in Wisconsin and hurt the state's ability to meet its goal of generating 10% of its power from renewable energy by 2015 (www.jsonline.com/721206).

That's not the way it should be.

An ordinance enacted in Trempealeau County in December, for example, bars wind turbines from being built within a mile of a habitable building. That's effectively a countywide ban, according to Michael Vickerman, executive director of the environmental group Renew Wisconsin.

Right now, state law requires state regulators to approve large wind farms but leaves the decision-making on smaller projects to local units of government. While local governments should have a say in siting wind farms - or anything else - in their jurisdiction, giving them the ability to outright ban small projects goes too far. And standards for wind farms should not vary widely from community to community.

The Global Warming Task Force has recommended changing state law by setting similar standards for wind turbines across Wisconsin, and a bill to that effect is expected to be introduced by state Sen. Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee). Legislators should get behind a reasonable bill that would enhance Wisconsin's ability to provide more renewable sources of energy.

A final version of the measure should include at least uniform standards for wind turbines and a provision that would give wind power developers or those opposed to a particular development the option of appealing a local government's decision to the state Public Service Commission.

Wisconsin needs all the tools it can get to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Wind farms - large and small - are among those tools. The state and local governments should be doing all they can to encourage more of them where they are appropriate.

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