by Christine Shearer, reposted from Conducive Chronicle
Members of the Wisconsin legislature may vote today – March 6, 2012 – to suspend recently agreed upon rules in the state that streamlined and made more efficient the state’s wind siting requirements. Although the legislators pushing for suspension cite the need for local control over wind rules as their motivation, many of them are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), raising questions over just how grassroots their motivation really is.
Pressure for the vote today is reportedly due to State Senator and ALEC member Frank Lasee. Wind supporters are urged to contact the state’s Senators and urge them not to suspend the uniform state siting rules.
Like many states, Wisconsin has a patchwork of differing local setback rules governing the distance wind developers need to leave between turbines and adjacent homes. To streamline the process, the Wisconsin legislature passed the 2009 Wind Siting Law instructing the Public Service Commission (PSC) to create one overarching state siting law for all wind turbines subject to local review.
After an open process, the PSC issued a compromise set of rules (PSC 128) requiring that turbines have a setback from the nearest property line of 1.1 times the height of the turbine, or roughly 450 feet for an average windmill. It establishes the minimum setback distance from neighboring residences at the lesser of 3.1 times the height of a wind tower, or 1,250 feet.
In response, Republican representatives and ALEC members proposed their own legislation to make implementation of larger wind projects much more difficult and protracted.
In October 2011, State Senator Frank Lasee (R) introduced a bill (SB 263) that would declare a moratorium on construction of wind farms over 100 feet, saying larger turbines should not be allowed until the state PSC was in possession of a report that ensures turbines do not cause health problems.
Several studies have already found that while concerns with noise and visual impacts should be taken into account and minimized, the research linking human health issues with wind turbines is minimal and tentative at best — the research behind “wind turbine syndrome,” for example, has been discredited several times.
Sen. Lasee is an ALEC member and alternate on the ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force. ALEC describes itself as the largest “membership association of state legislators,” but over 98% of its revenue comes from sources other than legislative dues, primarily from corporations and corporate foundations. Through ALEC, corporations vote on “model legislation” with politicians, often without the input of the local population. While there is not a publicly available ALEC “model bill” on wind siting rules, Lasee has introduced or co-sponsored legislation similar to ALEC model bills on health care, law enforcement, and landlord rights.
Although Lasee’s bill did not get a hearing, a Republican-controlled legislative committee voted along party lines to suspend the statewide rules in March 2011, on the day the new PSC wind siting rules were to take effect. Governor Scott Walker instead proposed a blanket 1,800-foot setback (over one-third of a mile) from the nearest property line, as part of a “regulatory reform” bill introduced in January 2011, which the American Wind Energy Association said would essentially shut down the state’s wind industry. Walker also appointed former ALEC Public Sector Board Treasurer Phil Montgomery as head of the Wisconsin PSC in March 2011.
Walker’s increased wind siting setback did not pass, yet wind proponents say the suspension of the statewide rules has aided in jeopardizing over 700 megawatts of wind projects that were proposed in the state, adding up to over $1 billion in financial investment loss.
The suspension will expire by March 15, 2012, and if no new rules are adopted by then, the original PSC rules will go into effect. Yet the debate seems far from over.
Lasee introduced another bill in January 2012 that would allow officials in cities, villages, towns and counties to establish the minimum distance between a wind turbine over 100 feet and a home, even if those rules are more restrictive than any the state tries to enact, overriding the authority of the state PSC.
More recently, the Wisconsin joint committee for review of administrative rules recently voted take up Senate Bill 50/Assembly Bill 72, reportedly due to pressure from Sen. Lasee. The bills would suspend the PSC 128 wind siting rules, forcing regulators at the PSC to start the rule-making process again. A vote may take place as soon as this afternoon: March 6, 2012 (click on the link “Regular Session”).
Residents of Wisconsin and supporters of wind power who would like to see the state’s uniform wind siting rules take effect are encouraged to contact the state’s Senators and tell them not to suspend the rules, particularly Senators Jon Erpenbach, Kathleen Vinehout, Dale Schultz, Alberta Darling, and Neal Kedzie.
Christine Shearer is a postdoctoral scholar in science, technology, and society studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a researcher for CoalSwarm, part of SourceWatch. She is Managing Editor of Conducive, and author of Kivalina: A Climate Change Story. This piece was originally published at Conducive Chronicle.