2/1/11 Walker's wind siting bill: What's the big deal? AND Contact your legislators AND Today's Extra Credit Reading List
WISCONSIN GOVERNOR'S APPROACH TO WIND: BACK OFF A BIT
Source: Renewable Energy World
February 1, 2010
By Jim Cummings, Acoustic Ecology Institute.
When Scott Walker was inaugurated as Wisconsin’s new Governor earlier this month, his first order of business was fully in keeping with his Republican priorities: he called a special session of the state legislature, dubbed the “Wisconsin in Open for Business” session. All bills will be focused on improving the state’s business climate, which in these tough economic times has widespread support.
As part of his job-creation agenda, he submitted a regulatory reform bill, which came with a wild card tucked inside: a new and stricter setback standard for industrial wind farms. While some in the state have attacked the stricter standard as a job-killer, it appears to me that the Governor has his pulse on one of the key avenues that the wind industry should be pursuing in order to gain widespread acceptance in the years to come: strong protections for the private property rights of wind farm neighbors, combined with provisions for mutually agreeable closer siting.
In response to tough local rules that were seen as anti-wind, in 2009 the Wisconsin legislature called for statewide regulations that localities cannot exceed; the state’s PSC recently adopted a new statewide standard of 1250 feet from homes. Governor Walker’s bill would increase setbacks statewide to 1800 feet from property lines.
While this would not protect neighbors from hearing wind turbines, which are often audible at a half mile and can be heard to a mile or more in some situations (some activists and acousticians suggest setbacks in these larger ranges), Walker’s proposal is a substantial increase, and a reasonable middle ground. This sort of approach could well be the clearest path forward for an industry that has been beset by community resistance in recent years, with Wisconsin being one of the most active centers of concern about the effects of wind farm noise.
Critics immediately slammed the change, claiming that it would basically preclude new wind farms in the state. These critiques ignore a key provision of the Governor’s proposal: neighbors closer than 1800 feet can agree to let turbines go up, presumably in exchange for some compensation from the wind company.
It appears that Governor Walker understands that the way to move the wind industry forward is regulations that help local communities to feel more comfortable with the likely impacts of new wind farms, rather than standards designed primarily to ease the placement of turbines. Like it or not, there is increasing concern about noise levels once considered moderate, e.g., 45dB.
Communities nationwide are coming to grips with the fact that wind farms come with some audible noise issues; pushing siting standards too close to homes will only continue to feed the growing stream of “horror stories” that multiply and magnify the problem into ever more communities where wind farms are proposed.
Adopting setbacks that truly do protect the most noise-sensitive community members, while allowing turbines to go up closer to folks who have no problem with them, could well be the smoothest, and fastest, way forward. Governor Walker’s combination of larger setbacks, and provisions for neighbors to sign waivers, is the right direction for growing this industry without threatening the quality of life of rural communities.
See AEINews for ongoing coverage of wind noise issues.
WHAT'S AT ISSUE WITH GOVERNOR WALKER'S WIND SITING BILL:
Pictured Above: Setbacks between 400 foot tall wind turbines and homes in a PSC-approved wind project Fond du Lac County Wisconsin. The yellow circles indicate the 1000 foot safety zone around each turbine.
Pictured Below: PSC approved Glacier Hills Wind Project under constrution in Columbia County. In this map from WeEnergies, red dots are turbine locations. Each yellow circle containing a small red square is a non-participating home.
When they permitted the wind project, the PSC admitted that there were too many turbines around some homes but instead of asking for fewer turbines in those areas they asked the wind company to offer to purchase the homes. They did.
The PSC wind rules allow safety zones to cross property lines and allow a wind company to automatically use a neighbor's land as part of that safety zone. This creates a no-build and no tree planting zone on the property of a non-particpating land owner who must to get permission from the wind company to build a structure or plant a tree on his own land.
Senate Bill 9 helps to correct this problem.
The PSC statewide siting rules are to take effect on March 1st, 2011. They have setbacks of 1250 feet between homes and a 500 foot turbine. The rules allow a wind company to use a non participating landowner's property as a safety setback zone.
Senate Bill 9 increases the setback to 1800 feet between turbines and property lines. If a landowner wants a turbine closer he can enter into an agreement with the wind company. This bill gives some choice and a little more protection to the rural Wisconsin families who have no choice about living beneath the turbines.
PICTURED ABOVE: a map showing the noise level predicted for residents in Invenergy's proposed Ledge Wind Project in Brown County. The yellow dots are homes. The black dots are wind turbine locations. The World Health Organization says nighttime noise should no louder than 35 dbA for healthful sleep. The deep blue areas indicate predicted turbine noise levels above 50 dbA. The purple areas indicate turbine noise levels of 50dbA.
EXTRA CREDIT READING LIST
THE DIRTY COST OF CLEAN WIND
"This is the deadly and sinister side of the massively profitable rare-earths industry that the ‘green’ companies profiting from the demand for wind turbines would prefer you knew nothing about."