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Monday, September 28, 2009

Anti-wind article damages Isthmus credibility

To the Editor of Isthmus:

There’s a word to describe the unexamined regurgitation of antiwind talking points sprinkled throughout Brian McCombie’s article “The War Over Wind,” September 11, 2009), but journalism isn’t it. Stenography is much closer to the mark.

But this one-sided article raises an unsettling question: why did the reporter, and by extension Isthmus, leave out so much counterbalancing material in its haste to present windpower in an unambiguously negative light?

Why, for example, was there no mention of Madison Gas & Electric’s Kewaunee County wind energy project? This 17-turbine installation has produced emission-free electricity since 1999. Much of its output feeds MGE’s hugely successful Green Power Tomorrow program. Earlier this year, the two townships hosting the project approved an extension of the project’s conditional use permits without any debate or discussion whatsoever. Considering how controversial the project was 11 years ago, when the townships voted on MGE’s application, this is a remarkable change of attitude. This suggests that the local residents have managed to adapt to life among wind turbines, even though some of the neighbors can hear the whooshing sounds at times.

In another material omission, the reporter failed to mention a recent Court of Appeals decision that overturned Calumet County’s arbitrarily restrictive wind energy ordinance. Taking note of Wisconsin’s 15-year-old wind energy siting law, the Court ruled in July that local units of government lack the power to adopt permitting standards of general applicability on wind energy systems. The ruling effectively dismantled the legal foundation supporting blanket restrictions on wind development that had been adopted by a dozen or so counties and towns. By overlooking this critically important bit of judicial history, the reporter effectively implied that the bills supported by the Wind for Wisconsin coalition constituted a naked power grab, when in fact the Court found that local governments had been overstepping their authority all along.

The fact-checking that went into this article appears to be non-existent. (Example No. 1: Invenergy, not Alliant, built and operates the 86-turbine project near Horicon Marsh. Example No. 2: Wisconsin has a legislatively mandated renewable energy goal of 10% by 2015, not the 25% by 2025 claimed in the article.) However, these examples of slipshod reporting seem positively benign when compared with the frothy brew of distortions, innuendo, omissions of fact, unfounded speculation and outright hysteria served up by your reporter.

Indeed, with this one article, you managed to toss into the dumpster whatever credibility your publication had built up over the years in the area of environmental reporting.

Michael Vickerman
Executive Director
RENEW Wisconsin
222 S. Hamilton St.
Madison, WI 53703

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