1/9/08 J is for Jursidiction: A step by step look at how a Wisconsin township came to create one of the best large wind ordinances in the state.
J is for Jurisdiction
1: The power, right, or authority to interpret and apply the law
2 a: The authority of a sovereign power to govern or legislate b: the power or right to exercise authority : control
3: The limits or territory within which authority may be exercised
In spite of what wind developers and lobbyists may tell residents and members of town and county government, the state of Wisconsin does indeed allow towns and counties to restrict and regulate wind energy systems—(commonly known as wind farms) for reasons of human health and safety.
The state also allows towns and counties to declare a moratorium on all aspects of wind energy systems construction in order to give the township or county time to work on creating a wind ordinance.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE TOWN OF UNION?
April of 2007: A wind developer attends a Plan Commission meeting to tell the commissioners his company is looking to site industrial wind turbines in the town of Union.
A representative of the utility, Wisconsin Public Power Inc., also attends. He tells the commissioners of the relationship WPPI has already established with the wind developer.
At this point the town has a choice: Should it develop its own wind ordinance, go with the draft model wind ordinance provided by the state, or do nothing at all?
The Town of Union decides to declare a moratorium and appoint a citizen's study committee to do research for the creation of a large wind ordinance. The Citizen's study committee decides to use the State's draft model wind ordinance as a starting point.
An open records request to the state from the town of Union soon reveals the state's draft model ordinance is based on no scientific or medical data. Instead, it appears to be written with the help of wind developers, utilities, and lobbyists.
It should be noted that since the time of the Town of Union's open records request, the state's draft model ordinance has been pulled from the state's website with no reason given.
Better Plan, Wisconsin, has contacted the Governor's office, the Public Service Commission, the Department of Administration, the Legislative Reference Bureau and several legislators to find out when and why the once readily available ordinance was pulled. No one was able to give an answer and a few of the officials we contacted told us they had no record of this ordinance.
(We still have a copy of the state's draft model wind ordinance on our website: To download a copy of the now-missing State ordinance, click here)
So what is a township to do when developers and utilities come calling?
The town of Union decided to create their own ordinance.
TOWN OF UNION LARGE WIND ORDINANCE: History, Creation and Content:
APRIL 2007-NOVEMBER 2008
Better Plan, Wisconsin has collected and summarized information found in the Town of Union's meeting minutes from April 2007 to November 2008 into a comprehensive document which charts the creation of the Union ordinance from start to finish. Our intention is to present this information in an easily accessible way for citizens and members of local government who want to follow a township's step-by-step process of creating and adopting a large wind ordinance.
We've excerpted a few pages below:
UNION TOWNSHIP, ROCK COUNTY, WISCONSIN
April 26 2007
A wind developer tells the Town of Union Plan commissioners his company is looking for a wind turbine site in the township.
A representative of the utility, Wisconsin Public Power Inc. tells the commissioners of the relationship WPPI has already established with the wind developer.
The Plan Commission Chairman A. F. says the Commission will have to look at an ordinance to handle commercial and personal wind turbines in order to address concerns such as turbine fall zone, height, footings, insurance and other health and safety issues.
Commissioner K.G. moves to postpone further discussion on this until the next meeting to provide time for members to review literature provided this evening.
There is discussion about writing a draft of an ordinance prior to the next meeting.
Commissioner M.E. says he will call the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) regarding single wind turbine ordinance language.
Motion approved by unanimous voice vote.
May 31, 2007
Commissioner M.E. states he’s been in contact with town residents regarding an ordinance on wind energy.
Commissioner K.G. reads from State Statute Subchapter IV Regulation 66.0401 regarding the state’s narrowing the town’s discretion over denying wind towers to only health and safety issues.
Chairman A.F. opens the meeting to public comment with 3 minute limit per person.
Chairman A.F. also says he has been approached by the wind developer to have a wind generator installed on his property.
A resident asks if the Plan Commission has read the Town of Lincoln report.
[Note: The Town of Lincoln Report includes the results of a survey meant to assess the impacts of the 22 turbines which went online in June, 1999 in the Town of Lincoln, WI. Download this report by clicking here]
In 2001 a survey was sent out to all property owners residing in Lincoln township. Each household received one vote. The results were presented on July 2, 2001, to the town board, two years after the wind factory construction. The survey included questions about
a. Shadows from the blades
b. TV reception
c. Blinking lights from on top of the towers
e. Other problems
-increased lightning strikes
-hazardous traffic conditions during and after construction
-being awaken by sound of wind turbines
-how close would you consider buying or building a home?
Wind developers (WPSC)’s buyout offers
A few of the Union P&Z Commissioners said they had read the survey. The resident urged the others to read it. He noted damage to aquifers and problems with stray voltage as well as concerns about maintenance.
Another resident emphasized the town’s ability to make a wind tower ordinance as strict as they want regarding health and safety.
The wind developer told the town the Lincoln Study was ten years old. He recommended visiting a website that promoted wind farms, and said had a study by the Public Service Commission that he was willing to share. [Note: the developer is mistaken here. The Lincoln survey was six years old at the time of this meeting]
A resident in a neighboring township who has signed a deal with the wind developer to host a met tower on her land says she’s done research and spoken to people living near wind turbines and found favorable response.
The representative for WPPI stated that turbine related trouble in Lincoln Township is an anomaly and much improvement has been made in wind towers since.
P&Z Commissioner M.E. asked what would be the ramifications to the township for not having an ordinance on the books.
The Town’s Attorney said he would have to research this issue before giving a final opinion.
The wind developer said with the size project proposed, they do not have to seek PSC approval nor are they legally required to complete an environmental impact study.
Commissioner D.Z. asked if the town could require an environmental impact study.
The wind developer was asked how many wind turbines are being proposed for the town of Union. He stated three to five.
Commissioner M.E. asked if the town could explore enacting a moratorium against building wind towers.
The Town’s Attorney said he needed to check on the possibility of doing this.
Commissioner M.J. moved to recommend to the town board to seek legal council to review whether or not the Town can enact a moratorium on large scale wind turbines pending further review and development of regulations. Motion approved by unanimous voice vote.
JUNE 7 2007
At the regular town of Union meeting, it was stated a moratorium on large wind generation can be enacted so that an ordinance can be developed without pressure of applications. Motion by Town Chairman K.S. to have the attorney draft a large wind generation moratorium language.
Motion passed by unanimous voice vote.
June 28, 2007
Resolution adopting Moratorium on Large Wind Energy Systems
Town’s Attorney distributed copies of the proposed ordinance.
A key issue he brought to attention was the short duration of this ordinance. This ordinance would end August 9, 2007 which allows the Town Board to hold public hearings and adopt a more formal ordinance which has a better estimate of a length of time needed to complete a revision to the zoning ordinance regarding the health and safety issues associated with installations of large wind energy systems. There will be Class two notices for meetings of the Plan Commission (July 26, 2007) and the Town Board. (August 2, 2007) Motion by Town Chairman to accept ordinance 2007-01 as prepared by the Town’s attorney to put a temporary stay until a stay can be established with the public hearing process. Motion approved by unanimous roll call vote.
JUNE 28 2007
Plan and Zoning Chairman A.F. recuses himself. He states a conflict of interest. [Note: This is because he is considering an offer by the developer to place a wind turbine on his land.]
Vice-Chair D.Z. becomes acting chairman.
The Towns attorney asks the Commission to prepare to provide:
1. An estimate of how long it will take to create a wind ordinance.
2. The extent to which the township should have in place a further stay [moratorium] on tower construction.
3. What type of process to follow in creating the ordinance, i.e., informational meetings,
research, public input, business input, etc.
He also asks the Commission to educate themselves on what rights they have in governing
control over wind construction.
Commissioner M.E. asks about creating a separate committee to collect information.
They need to find out: What are the issues, what do we need to consider about the issues, and how long will it take?
Discussion on an Ordinance for Wind Powered Electrical Generation Equipment.
No additional discussion was had on this issue as the Town Board already passed an ordinance staying construction of large wind towers. A public hearing regarding the process of developing an ordinance will be held at the July 26, 2007 Plan Commission meeting and another public hearing at the Town Board meeting on August 2, 2007.
JULY 26 2007
Plan Commission meeting
Public Hearing for the proposed extended stay on construction of Large Wind Energy Systems to give Town time to develop permanent regulations relating to the construction of Large Wind Energy Systems.
Chairman A.F. removes himself, due to conflict of interest. [Note: He is considering an offer from the wind developer to host a turbine on his land.]
Vice-Chair D.Z. explains the purpose of the hearing and asks all questions and comments be addressed to the vice-chairman.
Public Hearing Opened 7:55 p.m.
Representative of the utility, WPPI, presents an overview of the state requirements regarding renewable energy. Recommends adoption of an existing ordinance developed by another township/municipality, to save time for the board.
Wind Developer also asks town to adopt an existing ordinance, and suggests addingspecific conditions as needed to address specific concerns.
Resident #1 feels the Town should write their own ordinance, and review health & safety concerns. The Town should not rush into something that impacts everyone’s future.
(Former) Resident #2 says the Town should take all the time it needs to review this issue. Locally impacted residents should be taken into consideration and input sought in this issue.
Resident #3 .: Feels the Town should look at other ordinances, learn from what other towns and municipalities have done, and do research on the issue.
Resident #4: says the Town should take as much time as needed to develop ordinances specific to this area. Other ordinances used by other towns are not specific to this area/land. Subcommittee should be formed to review this issue, as it will have a large impact on heath/safety of residents.
Resident #5 wants lengthy stay, says the Town has no full time staff to devote to issue. The issue needs research and other sites should be visited. Wants Town chairman to appoint
citizen committee to review issue, propose ordinances. Says, there are long term effects of these decisions.
Resident #6: Agrees with comments of others. Issue is complex; she has been compiling ordinances and likes idea of committee. Feels at least a year is needed for research, etc before any decisions are made.
Resident #7 Just heard about this issue, and is unhappy with the idea that wind turbines could be placed next to her land that she has worked hard to obtain. Feels the whole issue needs further review.
Resident #8 Feels wind turbines will dominate the landscape, and negatively affect property values.
Resident #9: Agrees with her neighbors. Wants to make sure everyone is fully aware of how this will affect our area.
Resident #10: Feels moratorium should be extended at least 18 months. A committee should be formed and participants chosen by Plan Commission.
Resident #11: Supports neighbors’ comments, but need to keep in mind the state law which mandates renewable energy and the reason the Wind Developer is looking at these sites. Feels the Town should look at other ordinances to see what else has been done.
Resident #12: Agrees with all comments, feels the Town needs to take time as it has done with all other issues and fully research this issue.
Public Hearing Closed at 8:09 p.m.
Town’s Attorney provides draft ordinance and comments; recommended adopting it with changes outlined in memo. Noted that the moratorium must be as legally defensible as possible, and the timeline must be appropriate and defensible.
Recommended making the duration as short as possible considering the work to be done, and making a reasonable effort to get it done in time.
Commissioner M.E. states he likes idea of citizen committee, it allows for public input, and could perhaps include Plan Commission members as well.
Commissioner K.G. recommended the Plan Commission handle development of ordinance, as members have committed a lot of time and energy thus far on this issue, and can accomplish it in a shorter timeframe and are relatively unbiased.
Commissioner M.J. agrees, feels the Plan Commission should write ordinance with public input.
Commissioner M.E. wants clarification on who will actually do the work/writing?
Commissioner K.G. feels the Town attorney should actually write the ordinance.
Commissioner M.E. feels strongly that public should be included, as they are willing to help & participate.
Town’s Attorney outlines the stages identified in the ordinance:
identify issues & solutions
drafting ordinance stage;
back to Plan Commission for review prior to recommendation to Town Board;
Commissioner M.E. stresses the importance of listening to the public, getting their opinions, and the need to have public meetings.
Commissioner E.L. requested clarification, would the public would be involved at investigation stage, then scale back in next stages to Plan Commission only?
Town’s Attorney states that’s a possible approach, was not sure how much public input will be needed or be appropriate.
Commissioner M.E. suggests collecting information in specific areas from individuals and using that info at Plan Commission to craft ordinance.
Acting Chairman D.Z. expresses concern about how many more meetings the Plan Commission can handle, as more may be needed depending upon the process decided upon. He feels the additional resources available outside the Plan Commission are a resource that should be taken advantage of.
The Town’s Attorney proposes the following process:
Publish the scope of the process in the paper/on Town of Union website.
Town Board develops a citizen committee to research the issue and present a
report to the Plan Commission.
Plan Commission meets to review the report with legal counsel.
Legal counsel drafts ordinance, presents at Plan Commission meeting for review and finalization prior to presentation to Town Board.
Public hearing conducted prior to presentation of ordinance to Town Board.
Public hearing conducted by Town Board prior to adopting ordinance.
Timeline for above process:
Assemble citizen committee: 1 month.
Research and development of ordinance by citizen committee: 5 months.
Plan Commission review of ordinance/work sessions/legal counsel review/public hearing: 1-3 months.
Suggestion by Town’s attorney is to allow 12 months total for entire process to be completed.
Motion to recommend process as outlined by Towns attorney
Motion to approve carried by a 5-1 vote.
Town’s attorney says he will forward details of process to Town Clerk prior to August 2 Town Board meeting.