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6/9/10 "Struck by the Incredible Distrust" : Wind siting council chairman shows up with a long speech and a draft proposal of new rules

 Home in the Invenergy wind project near the Town of Byron in Fond du Lac County.  

Yesterday, after a presentation and discussion about how wind projects affect property values,  Wind Siting Council Chairman Dan Ebert presented a draft proposal of the council's siting rules.

This was not on the agenda and for many of us it was a complete surprise.


The draft proposal has the same noise limits the commission used for the Glacier Hills project however there is no numerical setback from homes. Mr. Ebert explained that a specific setback number was not needed for siting wind turbines in our state.

Before presenting the draft, Ebert gave a lengthy preamble about how Wisconsin had developed a national reputation as an anti-wind state, that the state was losing out economically because of this, how we needed wind projects to meet the renewables mandate, preserve the family farms in our state and to encourage manufacturing and job growth.

The transcription below takes it from there.

Dan Ebert is the vice president of policy and external affairs for WPPI Energy. Previously, he served with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission for five years, including three as  Chairman. He is also Chairman of CREWE.

From the CREWE website: "The Coalition for Clean, Responsible Energy for Wisconsin’s Economy (CREWE) has been formed by business stakeholders to partner with the administration, task force members, lawmakers and other businesses and stakeholders as energy policies are developed that transition Wisconsin to a sound economy powered by new green jobs and investment."


Transcript taken from the PSC broadcast of the Wind Siting Council meeting,
June 9, 2010

I am struck by the incredible distrust that exists in this state between the various stake holders on this issue.

 I think if we had, five years ago, created this council and had the commission move forward with rules, I think we would be at a very different place in this state.

It is about protecting landowners, it is about the economics of wind, it's about meeting the RPS, it's about health and safety. All of the issues we have been debating and discussing.

Five years ago it was the 'wild west' of wind. You had wind developers coming in, they didn't really have a sense of how to engage with landowners, how to create an environment where you can have a constructive dialog and resolve differences, complaint resolution if you will, we didn't have that.

And because of that--- and on the flip side of that, I think we've also had some bad actors on these issues. I think there are some in this state who have just said "No way, ever never. I don't want to see a wind turbine in my view shed.

And so they have taken the position that, 'We're just going to say no because I own this piece of property and there is going to be an impact, whether it's 1100 feet, in Larry's case, or in the case of the view shed. You know, it could be half mile, it could be a mile away. I'm just going to say no because that's what I want to have happen'

And so developers have been faced with that kind of environment, which I think has spoiled the environment for them. How do you engage constructively when the opponents are raising issues that are not really the issue?

It's not really about sound, it's not really about shadow-flicker, it's really about--- and Larry, the very real impacts that you have shared with all of us, those are real.

And if the motivation had been consistent throughout and your-- the issues that you have brought to this council have been able to be worked on in a constructive environment instead I think a lot of people have used it to say "We're just going to oppose these things and we're going to throw as much against the wall as we can" and I think it's really spoiled the environment.

So I think there's been a fair amount of, you know, mistakes, on many sides of this issue and this debate that have really spoiled the environment. And so as I thought about sort of what's the right framework, one of themes that came through and that I hope I have been able to put in this straw proposal is to level the playing field to allow for constructive dialog between the various stake-holders in this issue where one is not empowered over the other, one cannot just say no, and one can't just say "We're going to put his thing 800 feet from your house."

But rather to create an environment where an honest dialog and discussion can occur and that there are tools that developers have and that landowners have, property owners, local governments, tools in the toolbox, to help make sure that this debate can in fact happen in a constructive way, to work through and resolve issues.

I think if our motivation is those people who just want to say no and that there's ever ever going to be another wind turbine built anywhere that impacts them, this council is not going to get there.

But if we want to talk about how we level the playing field and allow for and give both the developers, utilities, landowners, local government the tools I think we can get there based on last weeks conversation.

And I have been significantly influenced by the people around this table. Tom and George on the real estate issue, I don't agree with you, uh, all the way. I don't think the case has been made about real estate impacts. But I do think the issue of real estate is on that I have a much greater sensitivity than before this wind siting council started.

You know, Bill, I've listened to your passionate description of the personal stake that you have put into building a business, and that's really what you are doing, is you're building a business and you put your own personal family finances on the line because you're committed to building a business and you're trying to do it the right way.

You know, Larry, you have been an effective spokesperson for the impacts. I am not convinced that they-- that we have the evidence to say that there are health impacts.

I am convinced that there are clear impacts for landowners and that in the early days certainly there have been mistakes made in how you deal with landowners and how you resolve conflicts and up to a point empower landowners to protect what they have.

The decision that you made to locate where you did for the reasons you did, you know it could have been handled better and it could have been resolved in a better way.

Jevon's not here but I found, you know, the work that he put in I think has been invaluable to the group. Again, I know there's some folks who don't necessarily agree with some of the conclusions that he made but I think his process and the serious approach that he took has really provided a valuable amount of information for this group.

Jennifer, you're the one person here, maybe not the only one but clearly focussed on economic impacts and what you're trying to do is to create a workforce to support an industry and that is what, quite frankly, one of the driving forces for the legislation.

The legislature wants to create an environment in the state where we can build wind turbines within reason, within a regulatory framework, but we can also then go and create some jobs and economic development around this burgeoning industry.

So, having said all of that, I have taken, uh, I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, I've put together a framework, it is a straw proposal, it is not going to be the final product of this group, but what I've tried to do is capture what I think I heard last week.

And I will tell you that everybody around this table will find something that they disagree with and somethings that you disagree with vehemently. What I tried to do is listen carefully and understand where the council members are and put together a framework that we can shoot at.

I hope you don't shoot at me. You can shoot at the proposal. Because what I'm really trying to do is move the debate forward. We've struggled for the last couple of weeks about how to move forward.

And I think as a group we need to, you know, roll up our sleeves and let's start taking a look at the issues and figure out where this council is.

I would suspect that there will be--- we'll have to have some votes. Just listening to the conversation I think we're going to have to have the group-- I think we're going to have to make some votes.

I also believe-- and you will see in what I'm going to hand out here-- that there's a lot that there's already relative consensus. A tweak here and there but there are some aspects of this rule that already have a significant amount of consensus.

But there are going to be those areas, primarily the areas that we talked about last week and this week where there's going to be a difference of opinion and as a group we're going to have to work through those.

So, having said that, I'm going to hand this out and put on my bullet proof vest.

[Pause while Ebert goes around the room to hand the straw rules to each council member]

What I would suggest is that we spend, that I spend just a few minutes going through it. And I'm going to jump over the areas of consensus pretty quickly but I think if council members could look a that and just identify those areas where they are concerned that there may not be consensus and let me know. Actually, probably let Deb know just to make sure we're complying with all of our rules and guidelines for us.

But what I tried to do is, based on all of the issues in the draft rule, identify those areas where I think, you know, again, there might be a tweak here or there but there is general consensus of the group. And part of that is just driven by focus and attention of the council members so there might be some here where I have, where we haven't had a chance to get to it yet or other things, so I just ask you to look through that and let Deb know if in fact those areas are in fact pretty close to consensus.

And then it's actually on page three [AUDIO DROPS OUT OF PSC BROADCAST]

[RESUMES SOME MOMENTS LATER] Have on-going responsibility. Just based on what we have before us today I think the setback is 1.1 times the height. But I also, and Larry, in deference to the possibility [AUDIO DROPS OUT]

[RESUMES] I think the council should revisit the 1.1 [AUDIO DROPS OUT]

[RESUMES] the conversation that this group has had but there is a clear difference around the issues related to those small projects and the larger projects and so I would propose that that's where this group start the debate and the discussion.

On noise standard I am persuaded that setting a numeric target is the right protection for particularly non participating landowners. You set it at 1200 feet or 1500 feet you may or may not capture the decibel levels. So I am suggesting what this group do is focus on a policy framework not a setback number around a noise.

And I'm persuaded by what we have heard and the conversation we have had that 45 decibels on a summer night, 50 decibels on a day and non summer night -- and I have to say I was very persuaded by our sound engineer, I mean we all wanted to hear from him.

And the impacts obviously will vary based on the house and insulation and topology and all those sort of things but 10 to 15 decibels below something measured outside is the right standard to end up with.

I would like to highlight at this point connection between the noise and I would also put shadow flicker in there with compensation.

I believe that part of the problem, and we heard it again today, with one of our folks, one of our witnesses here today, that the issue of non-compensation for non-participating landowners has been a significant contributor to the controversy around wind.

And I think for non-participating landowners and I would define that not as the entire area of a project but really those landowners that are adjacent to, and next to, and impacted by the placement of turbines,  that if--- I believe that one of the ways to level the playing field and to allow-- to not give-- to give a non-participating landowner more influence in the debate is to allow them to receive some compensation. And to allow a developer to negotiate with a non participating landowner in return for compensation. And I believe that will resolve many- the majority of the issues. It's not going to resolve them all, I recognize that, but I think tying-- setting what in effect are impacts that are more on the annoyance and impacting the value of a landowner.

Again, I'm not persuaded that the record supports health impacts the way that a health professional would define it.  So as I think about setting the setbacks and the perimeters it's really about what is the minimal protection for particularly non participating landowners.

To set clear standards, to set what I believe are reasonable standards, they are not perfect and they are not going to resolve every single one of the issues but I think they are clear and I think they set the benchmark and then allow a developer the ability to negotiate with that person and to compensate that person to waive some of these frameworks.

Around shadow-flicker, I think the maximum shadow flicker experience at a non-participating residence should be set at 25 hours per year. We should use computer modeling to really try to as best we can estimate that. And that any non-participating residence who can show that they get more than 20 hours of shadow flicker per year automatically are eligible for mitigation.

I think, again, what we want to do is set up a transparent process. You, as a non-participating landowner may receive up to 25 hours per year. If you get more than 20 you do get mitigation, that is your right.

Again, I think individual landowners can waive those for compensation.

On signal interference, I'm persuaded that you're impacting the quality of life, you're not impacting them for a year, your impacting them for the duration that they are there. So I am persuaded that the developer should remedy television, radio, and cellular telephone interference for the life of the wind energy system. I'm open to for the life of the wind energy system and for the duration that they are at that residence.

I think, you know, a new-- somebody buying the property, coming in, probably would have the-- would understand that goes with it--- I think that's open to debate and conversation.

On the notification requirements, I really sort of struggled with this because I understand Tom and other's point about , you know, we should really let the community know as soon as possible.

But I think the balance that I tried to strike here is we should also allow the free enterprise system and an entrepenuer to have some conversations, develop a project, start developing a project, but once that entity understands that there is going to be a project that they give 180 days before the application goes in or before construction begins as the case may be.

I believe that's the right balance that should be struck on the notification requirements. And again, on a small wind energy system, I think 90 days before a project-- as a practical matter, if I'm going to put up a small project on my property I'm probably going to be talking to my neighbors before I get to that point.

I also struggled quite a bit on complaint resolution because I am inclined in this area to be a little bit more prescriptive. But, in-- I mentioned in the beginning the balance, leveling the playing field. I think reasonable efforts on the part of the developer to establish a complaint resolution process and to work with the local government to work through these.

And I think it's a common sense. And Andy I think, I really in particular have valued your expertise and guidance throughout this process because I think that as a company and I think that other council members recognize that, you guys have done a pretty good job of striking this balance and so I was persuaded on the complaint resolution process that that is valuable but I'm also hesitant to prescribe a particular solution because I think every community is different, every developer is different, and it should really be, you know, an honest effort between the local government and the developers to set up that complaint resolution process.

So I think to have the rules say you guys should do this without prescribing a particular solution is the best way to proceed.

Again, this is an area where the wind siting council on an ongoing basis could revisit this and wether or not there are good faith efforts being made by developers and by local governments to try to resolve-- to create a process to resolve and work through these complaints.

Again I think, similar to the compensation, I think this process, if developers had used this process I believe an overwhelming majority of the complaints could have been resolved and could have been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties. But there wasn't a tradition. There wasn't a history of doing this.

So, on the wind lease and easements, and decommissioning, you will note that I tracked pretty closely to the draft rule. I believe the rules probably came out pretty close in that area.

This is a straw proposal. It's designed to prompt what I am confident will be a vigorous debate and discussion. Just to have a framework out there to shoot at.

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