Lawmakers weighed the balance of wind energy in Wisconsin at the Capitol on Wednesday, with developers of wind turbine farms pitted against property owners and local governments who argue the massive turbines decrease property values and cause health problems. Governor Scott Walker had proposed a special session bill which would have increased the setback for wind turbines from 1250 feet from a property line, to 1850 feet. That bill failed to advance, so now the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules is taking second look at the Public Service Commission rules which are scheduled to go into effect next month.
As the day long hearing got underway, committee members commented on the lengthy process of public hearings held by the PSC as the rules were being developed. “I know it was a difficult task,” said Representative Dan Meyer (R-Eagle River). “But I have a feeling a lot of these people feel this is just going to be rammed down their throat. They may not want windmills in their backyard, but there going to get them, because the state of Wisconsin says ‘you’re going to have them.'” State Senator Lena Tayler (D-Milwaukee) responded to Meyer’s comment. “There isn’t ramming going on here . . . 2009 to now is not ramming.”
Larry Wunsch is a landowner near Brownsville in south Fond du Lac county. Wunsch told the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules that a wind farm near his property – and a turbine 1250 feet from his home – have changed his life. “When you put a device so close to my land that it drives me out of my property, I do have a say on that,” Wunsch told committee members. “We should be protecting Wisconsinites here.
Wunsch, who served on the Public Service Commission’s Wind Siting Council and signed onto its Minority Report, said he’s been unable to sell his property. Wunsch testified against the rules with another member of the Wind Siting Council who signed the Minority Report, Doug Zweizig from the Town of Union in Rock County. “The rules as written will not protect the health safety and welfare of impacted Wisconsin residents and communities,” said Zweizig, who serves on the Union Town Board, which had written its own ordinance on wind siting. Those impacts include sleep deprivation for a significant percentage of people living near turbines, according to Green Bay physician, Dr. Herb Cousins. “We make outstanding guidelines and rules for peanut allergies in school, when less than one percent or so of the population is affected by that,” Cousins said. “In this circumstance, up to fifty percent or more at this 1200 foot range will be affected.”
But Jeff Anthony with the American Wind Energy Association said if lawmakers decide to suspend the PSC rules, they’ll throw wind development projects around the state into chaos – and cost Wisconsin jobs. “The $1.8 billion of investment in future wind projects that are currently on the books and planned for Wisconsin, will not happen. Two million construction job hours to build those projects, will not happen in this state,” said Anthony. “Farther down the road, you could have an impact on the manufacturing sector.”
The rules were drafted as a response to an uncertain landscape for wind development in Wisconsin, as local governments such as Doug Zweizig’s town board drafted their own – sometimes restrictive – wind siting ordinances. But Bob Welch, a former state lawmaker who now lobbies on behalf of a coalition of opponents, said the PSC rules go too far. “What the PSC rules want to do is say ‘you don’t get to decide what goes in your community. You have nothing, absolutely nothing to say about it’ if these rules are in place. They’re going to decide what goes in your community, not you. I don’t think that’s the Wisconsin way.”
Landowners who have wind turbines sited within a half mile of their property lines are eligible for ‘good neighbor’ payments. But apparently not all are interested in getting the money. “I have two of them within that parameter, so I would make a thousand dollars a year,” Larry Wunsch told the committee. “Personally I think it’s dirty money, it’s bribe money and I’ve never taken it, I don’t plan to take it. If they want to make it right with me, buy my house. Let me get out of there.”