As part of his special session on jobs and the economy, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed legislation which would revise the rules for siting wind turbines in Wisconsin. The bill is not advancing through the legislative process, but the issue if far from dead. This week a legislative committee will begin the process of reviewing existing rules, and the committee members may well recommend the sorts of changes proposed by Walker.
Bob Welch is spokesman for the Coalition for Wisconsin Environmental Stewardship, a group which wants the setbacks for wind turbines increased. Welch says wind turbines are fine for places such as North Dakota. “But if you’re putting them in the middle of a highly developable, growing area like they want to put them here, on the east side of Lake Winnebago, you’re going to see a huge negative impact to our economic development, and cost us a lot of jobs,” said Welch, who added that “windmill ghettos” will put the brakes on residential and commercial development. But Keith Reopelle with Clean Wisconsin counters that, saying that changing the rules could also cost jobs – and not just the construction work associated with installing turbines and towers. “It definitely would put a chilling effect on the state’s ability to attract those new jobs, or for our current manufacturers to expand,” Reopelle said. “It may also threaten existing jobs we have here in the state, manufacturing wind turbine parts.”
Welch isn’t so sure about the jobs impact. “The vast majority of wind turbine siting is going on in the Great Plains, and the vast majority of people who know who to make high tech, heavily engineered products are in the Midwest. That isn’t going to change if we put up ten more windmills or a hundred more windmills,” said Welch. “If it makes economic sense to put up a wind turbine in North Dakota, the place they’re going to come to get it built is Wisconsin.”
The wind siting rules, which go into effect next month, require that wind turbines must be set back 1,250 feet away from property lines. Walker’s special session bill would have increased that distance to 1,800 feet, and developers of several wind projects asked the governor not to move forward with the bill. The legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules is scheduled to consider the wind siting rules on Wednesday. “We’re pretty confident in the end we’re going to see some common sense siting regulation,” said Welch, who added that the regulations “are very biased toward wind developers.” The regulations were developed by the state Public Service Commission over a two year period. Reopelle said the regulations, developed by the state Public Service Commission over a two year period, represent a good compromise between competing interests, and should not be altered. “But they could suspend the rules, and then they would need to introduce legislation to change the rules,” he said.