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Monday, April 6, 2009

Wind farm stirs up election

From an article by Craig Reber in the Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, Iowa):

SMELSER, Wis. -- The fate of a proposed southwest Wisconsin wind farm could be decided Tuesday at the polls, where supporters of the controversial plan face off with opponents.

Wind Capital Group, headquartered in St. Louis, wants to build about 61 towers -- 400feet high from the base to tip of blade -- in portions of three townships: Smelser, Paris and Hazel Green. The proposed White Oak Wind Farm would have a total capacity of 100 megawatts.

Opponents of the White Oak Wind Farm proposal cite safety and health issues with the siting of the wind turbines. They seek a one-half mile setback minimum requirement (as opposed to the proposed 1,000 feet) to minimize what they call the "noise, safety and health risks" to families and their houses.

They say the shipment of the wind turbine components -- tower sections, blades and the hub -- would require large trucks that would "likely" damage the area's roadways. They question what happens to the wind turbines after they have served their "useful" lives. They say the "risk" is that the turbines will never get torn down after they are abandoned.

Foes want an ordinance enacted by the Smelser Town Board of Supervisors that they say would "protect" the township's residents. There are five people on the Tuesday ballot challenging three incumbent supervisors, the township clerk and treasurer. The incumbent chairman and supervisors have been in support of the wind farm.

A town board could adopt a moratorium on a wind farm development by passing an ordinance. However, such an ordinance still could be subject to a legal challenge since no state statute specifically gives townships such authority. Several state Assembly members plan to reintroduce legislation that will provide the state Public Service Commission the authority to establish state standards for wind turbine setbacks and acceptable noise levels.

Also on the state level, Gov. Jim Doyle has a goal of generating 25 percent of the state's electricity and 25 percent of transportation fuel from renewable fuels (including wind power) by 2025.

RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide nonprofit organization, advocates for public policies and private initiatives to support renewable energy. It supports the project. RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director Michael Vickerman said wind farms are an important source of revenue to local governments, in terms of payments and taxes -- not to mention the supplemental income to the host landowners.

Grant County could collect $400,000 annually for the next 25 years, with an option of 10 additional years. As mandated by state law, the county would distribute 40 percent of the revenue to the townships that host the turbines. Smelser Township would have half of the turbines and receive $80,000. Paris and Hazel Green townships, hosting a quarter of the turbines each, $40,000.

Wind farm proponents offer their views on Smelsertownship.com.

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