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Wisconsin to impose siting restrictions

UNITED STATES: Restrictive standards for siting turbines could soon change the landscape for wind projects in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin.

The proposed law would apply to projects under 100MW and include significant changes in setback requirements, along with so-called good-neighbour payments for residents living within half a mile of a turbine.

The proposal, adopted by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC), has been submitted to state lawmakers for review and possible revision - and is likely to become law by year's end. The standards resulted from a law passed earlier this year that tasked the PSC with creating statewide uniformity to eliminate the regulatory patchwork that existed among various counties and localities.

The setback standards would multiply the total height of a turbine by 3.1 to create a fixed setback distance. New turbines have tended to become taller - particularly the rising number of turbines designed for lowand medium-speed wind, so these restrictions are likely to take on an increasing role.

As an example, Michael Vickerman, executive director of renewables trade group Renew Wisconsin, points to a project under construction near Green Bay that consists of eight Nordex 2.5MW turbines reaching nearly 152 metres in height - meaning that any resident inside a 450 metre radius could veto the placement of turbines.

Vickerman says: "If a person objects to it, that turbine can not be legally sited there unless the developer and that individual sign a waiver. That is pretty much going to lock in 2008 technology here in Wisconsin - especially in eastern Wisconsin, where you have higher population density."

Alleviating tensions

The good-neighbour payments are an attempt to alleviate tension over sightline, shadow flicker and noise complaints from residents who do not host turbines on their property. But Vickerman believes that the proposed distance is excessive and that the payment will add significant costs to wind farms.

The good-neighbour payment is linked to the amount a nearby turbine landowner host receives and is not to exceed 25% of a per-turbine payment. Values differ around the country, but $5,000 per year is a common average payment per turbine. Neighbours in that case could be entitled to $1,250 a year.

Vickerman agrees with the principle of good-neighbour payments, but says: "Half a mile in eastern Wisconsin can sweep up a lot of houses and making it a requirement, I think, is problematic. Developers are not happy about that provision."

The standards, which also include provisions for complaint resolution, were championed by pockets of dissenters. "Wisconsin has quite a number of well-organised anti-wind cells," Vickerman says. "You have a few people who are convinced that these turbines are diminishing their own pursuit of happiness and affecting their quality of life in a negative way. It is these kind of stories that add up - they travel around on the anti-wind internet network when, in fact, most people do not have a problem with proximity to wind turbines. But they are not going to show up at a hearing to say, 'I love them!'"

But Vickerman adds that, in a few isolated cases, the developers are to blame. "You could say that a bad developer brings the reputation of the rest of the industry down to that developer's level - however unfair that process is."

Pre-emptive authority

The standards will not apply to projects already approved and the PSC will maintain pre-emptive authority on projects over 100MW. Deb Erwin, policy analyst for the PSC, says: "These rules create a uniform ceiling for local government regulation and a more predictable permitting environment for the development of these wind projects."

Wisconsin has 449MW online and ranks 18th both in online wind capacity and potential with two permitted wind farms - the Green Bay development and Glacier Hills, a 162MW development comprising 90 Vestas turbines.

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