New Wind Farm in Wisconsin?

December 30, 2013

In October, Emerging Energies of Wisconsin obtained a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to construct a wind farm in St. Croix County.  The Highland Wind Farm would be the first to be permitted following Wisconsin Act 40, a controversial state law passed in 2009.  Act 40 establishes a uniform set of permitting standards for wind projects.  Among other things, it increased wind turbine setback distances from residences to 1,250 feet (from 1,000 feet).  Opponents of wind projects advocate that the distance should be even greater, perhaps up to 3 miles.  It is difficult to believe it would even be possible to construct a large scale project in Wisconsin if the siting rules required 3 miles distance from a residence.

The Highland Wind Farm is a $250 million, 102.5 megawatts (“MW”) project that will include 41 turbines located on about 26,550 acres in St. Croix County.  If built, it will produce enough clean, safe energy to power about 29,000 homes.  But the opposition to the project is incredibly intense.  A recent article in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, describing in some detail the extent of the acrimony generated by the project, explains why there has been such a dearth of wind projects in Wisconsin in the last several years.

The Board for the Town of Forest, the site of the project, has expended enormous resources to stop the controversial project.  The Town has reportedly spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” fighting the project, and may spend an additional $150,000 to $300,000 to develop its own sound monitoring system.  And, Town attorneys filed a motion on November 14 asking the PSC to reconsider its approval.  The Commission has 30 days to decide if it will rehear the matter.  If the request is denied, which is likely, the Town would have 30 days to file an appeal in circuit court.

Wisconsin added only 18 MW of wind energy in 2012, lagging well behind the trend in many other states of adding significant amounts of wind power.  Given the political climate in the state, it looks like that pattern will continue in the foreseeable future.