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Friday, April 8, 2011

Walker should reconsider his stance on setbacks for wind farms

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Wind farms in Wisconsin can lessen the state's reliance on coal-fired power plants at the same time that they add jobs to the economy. But instead of moving forward on this economic development tool, Gov. Scott Walker's administration is taking a step back. That's a mistake and something Walker should rethink.

What the governor and the Legislature have done is change the rules under which wind farms are sited, seeking to put greater distance between homes and wind farms. As a result, at least two firms have announced they are canceling or suspending plans to build wind farms in Wisconsin - and that means a loss of potential jobs.

Here's what happened: Two years ago, the Legislature called on the state Public Service Commission to establish a uniform standard for wind projects across the state. The idea was that a statewide standard was better than the patchwork of local rules and moratoriums that were in place. It was a good idea, and the PSC came up with a rule.

One of its elements was a 1,250-foot setback from a neighbor's property line; it also would have provided decibel and shadow flicker requirements for wind farm turbines.

The setback wasn't enough for Walker and wind farm opponents; in January, the governor introduced a bill with a 1,800-foot setback, although he said this week that his administration remains open to wind energy. Last week, a legislative committee sent the PSC's new rule back to the PSC for more work. The concern is that wind farms will hurt property values of neighboring residents.

That's resulted in enough uncertainty over the future of wind farms in Wisconsin that Invenergy of Chicago canceled plans to develop a wind farm near Green Bay and Midwest Wind Energy suspended development of two wind farms.

A statewide standard still needs to be set by the PSC. And the legitimate concerns of neighbors of wind farms need to be taken into account without giving too much credence to fears that are unfounded and overstated. But the standard should not be so restrictive that wind farms become impractical in Wisconsin. That takes Wisconsin out of the clean energy economy - a bad bet.

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