Wisconsin anti-wind bill is job killer

Wisconsin's new Governor, saying that the state's economic problems are too serious to wait, called a special session of the legislature that is now underway. Strangely, however, one of his major proposals is a job killer that would shut down the state's emerging wind energy industry.

The proposed bill would require 1,800-foot setbacks from property lines, among other unworkable provisions. As a result, no wind projects proposed or under construction would move forward, resulting in the loss of over 700 MW of projects currently planned in the state, resulting in the loss of $1.8 billion dollars of investment in the state and aggregate construction-related employment impacts of at least 2 million job-hours. Wisconsin employed 2,000-3,000 people in the wind energy industry, either directly or indirectly. Many of these jobs will simply leave the state as developers look for other locations outside of Wisconsin without onerous requirements such as the 1,800-foot setback, which would be the most restrictive statewide setback requirement in the country.

* Governor Scott Walker (R) was elected to his position in October 2010. In early January, upon his inauguration, Governor Walker almost immediately called for a Special Session of the legislature focused on jobs and economic development issues.

* The legislation proposed would increase the setback for any wind turbine installed in the state of Wisconsin to 1,800 feet from any turbine to the nearest property line. A key difference is that the rules adopted in late 2010 required a maximum setback of 1,250 feet from neighboring residences, not the nearest property line.

* The 2010 wind siting rule, developed in response to a bill that called for uniformity in wind standards across the state, was completed in December after nearly a year of work by the Public Service Commission and a wind siting advisory council. It sets the minimum setback distance from neighboring residences at the lesser of 3.1 times the height of a wind tower or 1,250 ft.

Wind Power in Wisconsin Today

Online as of 3Q10: 449 Megawatts (MW)
Added in 2009: 54 MW
Added in 2010: 20 MW
Wisconsin currently ranks 18th for total installed wind capacity.

Wind Projects in Jeopardy as a Result of Proposed Legislation

Twelve proposed wind projects would be subject to the proposed bill if adopted by the Wisconsin Legislature. This proposal applies both to projects that have not received a permit and approved projects that have not yet started construction. None of these projects could comply with the setback standards and the real estate industry requirements contained in this proposal. The following would be lost to Wisconsin:

Total wind generating capacity: approximately 725 MW
Total investment value: $1.8 billion
Aggregate construction-related employment impacts: 2,000,000 job-hours

Reactions to the Anti-Wind Bill

“Don't blow back on wind power,” Wisconsin State Journal editorial

“Wind energy ban is jobs killer,” opinion article in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Keith Reopelle, Senior Policy Director of Clean Wisconsin, Wisconsin's largest environmental advocacy organization

“Wind turbines: Governor transforms into intrusive regulator,” Tomah Journal editorial

History of the Existing Wind Siting Rule

(Apologies for the length, but this is needed to give an idea of how thoroughly the existing regulation, that the new anti-wind bill proposes to overturn, was considered.)

* Wisconsin 2009 Act 40 was signed into law on September 30, 2009 by Governor Jim Doyle to provide for uniform siting across the state and to ensure that Wisconsin was seen as “open for business” for wind project development. The bill was intended to replace the myriad and patchwork of local zoning laws that had stymied wind project development in the state.

* In May 2010, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) began seeking public input and advice from the recently-formed “Wind Siting Council” required by Act 40 to create the rules to implement the legislation.

* Opponents to wind power growth in the state used the public comment period and Wind Siting Council meetings to flood the process with unsubstantiated and baseless claims. The coalition of renewable energy advocates, wind developers and manufacturers filed comments to stress that:

* Uniform wind siting standards will allow wind projects to move forward without being held up by a patchwork of unreasonable requirements.

* The wind siting council is evaluating all issues relating to public health and safety based on objective, scientific, fact-based studies.

* Wisconsin has substantial wind resources, which have the potential to generate clean, renewable energy with no associated fuel costs; however, burdensome, unreasonable requirements will discourage wind companies from developing projects in our state.

* Wind energy opponents present no factual or scientific basis to support their arguments for the extreme requirements they propose.

* Overly burdensome siting requirements will result in substantial economic losses to rural communities.

* The Wind Siting Council submitted its report in August 2010 to the PSCW.

* The PSCW issued rules at the end of August, but several of the rules they issued were inconsistent with the results presented to them by the Wind Siting Council and the rules went beyond the legislative boundaries established by Act 40.

* The renewable energy coalition filed comments to this effect, noting that several rules conflicted with the original intent and specific requirements of Act 40.

* Hearings were held in October of 2010 before the State Senate to address the inconsistencies.

* Finally, revised rules were issued on December 9, 2010 and were generally received positively by the wind energy industry. Noted RENEW Wisconsin: “The final rules strike a reasonable balance between protecting public health and safety and advancing wind energy generation, a proven pathway for creating well-paying jobs and increasing revenues to local governments.”

* Initially, the rule did not specify a definite setback distance between turbines and residences and community buildings neighboring the host property.

* “By setting a maximum setback distance of 1,250 feet, the rule would not impose economic burdens on wind developers seeking to install newer and larger wind turbines now available in the market, such as the 2.5 megawatt turbines being erected at the Shirley Wind Farm in Brown County,” according to RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director Michael Vickerman.

* The Wind Siting Rule (PSC 128 ) became effective, surviving a last-minute move to delay it. These rules were scheduled to take effect on March 1, 2011.

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