The Elgin, Ill.-based company wants to build a 100-megawatt project that could cover anywhere from 7,000 to 8,000 acres. But the town drafted an ordinance requiring 1,000-foot setbacks from property lines and half-mile setbacks from houses.
"The setback would strongly affect where we could build something," said Curt Bjurlin, Wisconsin project developer for EcoEnergy. "But it's still a bit premature to say anything for certain yet."
Magnolia was scheduled to hold its first public hearing on the ordinance Thursday night, after The Daily Reporter's press deadline. That ordinance was first drafted by Union Township, and resident Tom Alisankus said Magnolia still beat Union to the punch.
"We came up with the ordinance, but due to scheduling issues here, we still haven't adopted it here," Alisankus said. "We haven't even held a public hearing on it."
Union Township drafted the ordinance to respond to an EcoEnergy proposal, Alisankus said, but it was a much smaller project than that in Magnolia.
Still, Alisankus said, the local setbacks work for any project because, unlike the state's model ordinance for wind farm developers, the Union Township committee researched various health effects of turbines and studied statistics from The National Research Council and the World Health Organization.
"The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin was intimately involved with that model ordinance," Alisankus said. "They did zero medical or scientific research. The model ordinance calls for a 1,000-foot setback, but they admitted they had no background on establishing the number. They just said they doubled the height of a turbine."
Since the Magnolia project looks to break the 100-megawatt mark, the PSC, not the town, will make the final call on the project.
Tim Le Monds, the PSC's director of governmental and public affairs, said the PSC would take the town's concerns into consideration and provide opportunities for public comment.
He also said the PSC will look into the scientific and medical data the Union Township committee researched, but admitted when it comes to large wind farm projects, the PSC refuses little.
"I'd say in most cases we pass the projects," Le Monds said. "But you have to realize that we get it from both ends. We hear from local governments about how they don't want wind farms, but we also hear from the state how we have to break away from coal-fired plants, look at cleaner options and meet standards."
But, he said, that doesn't mean the PSC rubber-stamps the proposals.
"Arguments that we're automatically always in favor, though, aren't founded," Le Monds said. "Wind farms still account for a very small percentage of generation in Wisconsin."
But they're popping up more and more. Disputes between local governments and wind farm developers on where to place wind farms rose to a new level last year when Trempealeau County set a one-mile setback distance from homes, schools and businesses. Developers argued they were left with no available space.
State and environmental officials argued Wisconsin was implying it was closed for wind farm business. Legislation raced through the Capitol last month to give the state ultimate control in establishing setback rules, but a state Senate committee killed it, arguing the topic needed more time.
Responses in Magnolia varied last year, said Steve Earleywine, a member of the town committee that put Magnolia's ordinance together.
He said the town might need four or five months before adopting the rule.
EcoEnergy, Bjurlin said, is willing to wait.
"It's still under early development," he said. "We haven't started signing agreements or anything. We're only at the feasibility stage and looking at land availability."