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Opposition rallies in Wisconsin

A 30 MW wind farm planned by FPL Energy for southern Wisconsin has run into such stiff local opposition that an information meeting was abruptly cancelled last month because it had attracted too many. About 500 concerned citizens were turned away and the project is almost certain to be delayed as a result. The core of the hostile gathering in the town of Addison was made up of residents from suburban housing near the site.

A wind farm planned for southern Wisconsin has run into such stiff local opposition that an information meeting was abruptly cancelled last month because it had attracted too many. About 500 concerned citizens were turned away and the project is almost certain to be delayed as a result. The wind farm is slated for a site along the busy interstate highway 41, only 35 miles from downtown Milwaukee, and is being proposed by FPL Energy, which is seeking to install 33 NEG Micon 900 kW turbines (Windpower Monthly, October 1999).

The core of the hostile gathering in the town of Addison was made up of residents from suburban housing near the site. Although FPL Energy had been meeting with land owners, the town planning board and local business leaders for six months, the Florida based power company had not discussed its plans with nearby citizens. They turned out in force for a meeting of the Town Board of Addison on October 7.

The crowd was so large that the town's fire marshal cancelled the meeting. It will be held when larger accommodation is found in the tiny town. FPL had planned to make presentations using extensive visual aids, but since about half of the overflow crowd had to stand in an adjacent truck garage, the visuals would have been worthless, even if the meeting had been allowed to continue.

Power from the project will be sold to Wisconsin Electric Power Co (WEPCO), and Alliant Energy and Wisconsin Public Power Inc (WPPI), a public wholesale generation company. The two investor owned utilities will use the project to meet the terms of a 1997 state mandate for renewables power, while WPPI will use its share of the output for green pricing programs offered by municipal utilities.

Getting organised

Before the meeting was cancelled, opponents handed out forms asking participants to check off a number of reasons for their opposition, including "impact on property values, noise pollution, visual land pollution, health risks (stray voltage, electromagnetic fields), wildlife impact (migrating geese and other birds), impact on TV reception [and] impact construction will have on roads [and] area wells." Opposition to the wind farm was fueled in part by a prominent article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel critical of the wind farms in Kewaunee County.

"The article, which wasn't very balanced to begin with, couldn't have come out at a worse time for FPL Energy," says Michael Vickerman, director of Renew Wisconsin, a lobby group supportive of wind. "It served to feed the suspicions of those who were hearing about [the Addison project] for the first time. Opponents have successfully transformed the complaints in that article into a general indictment of all wind development in Wisconsin."

WEPCO's renewable energy manager, Chris Schoenherr, has been helping with the approval process, taking busloads of residents to visit wind turbines near Fond du Lac and in Kewaunee County. WEPCO owns two Vestas turbines near Fond du Lac, while Madison Gas & Electric and Wisconsin Public Service have wind farms totaling 31 Vestas turbines in Kewaunee County.

Vickerman thinks the FPL wind farm will be less noticeable to neighbouring landowners than the Kewaunee County projects. "The project may have more turbines, but they'll be farther away from houses, and they will be sited to avoid tower shadow, as compared with the Kewaunee County projects," he says. "But there is a core group that simply doesn't care about the truth," Vickerman adds. "They will mouth statements they know to be false to convince the town board to scuttle the project. Assuming FPL's host landowners are still on board, then it's possible that FPL can prevail, but it will be an uphill fight all the way."

FPL's Steve Dryden plans to meet with local residents over the next two months. The date for the next public meeting has been set for mid-December.

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