Project can meet state noise standards, company says
By Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel
Developers of the only major wind project on the drawing board in Wisconsin are asking the state Public Service Commission to rethink its recent split decision blocking a construction permit for the Highland Wind Farm.
The $250 million project stalled when the commission, on a 2-1 vote, decided to deploy a more conservative standard for wind turbine noise limits.
The commission refused to allow the project to proceed, because the state noise limit might be exceeded on occasion for several homes near the project.
But Emerging Energies Inc. of Hubertus said the project does not need to be redesigned to accommodate the noise concerns. Instead, the developer said it planned to preprogram turbines that could cause noise problems to power down if wind speeds would cause the limits to be exceeded.
The developer urged the PSC, in an “emergency request” filed Friday afternoon, to allow the development to proceed without requiring the developer to start over on the project.
Groups opposed to and supporting the project have been asked to weigh in on the Highland Wind Farm request by Wednesday. Highland is asking the commission to take up the matter at its weekly meeting on Friday.
PSC spokeswoman Kristin Ruesch said it was premature to say whether the agency would take another look at the project. The commission will wait to review the responses to Highland’s request, she said.
Emerging Energies says it has worked for six years and invested nearly $2 million to develop the project, which would be located in St. Croix County, northwest of Eau Claire.
Opponents weigh in
Opponents of the project said the commission does not need to rethink its stance. They said that money the developer has invested in the project shouldn’t be a concern for the PSC.
“They assumed that risk, and if it does not pay off for them, that is their problem,” Forest Voice said. “The public interest is not harmed by that loss.”
Separately, a coalition of towns in Sheboygan County – where Emerging Energies has proposed a smaller wind farm – urged the commission to reject the request. The commission shouldn’t take into account the developer’s past investment and allow a “rush to judgment,” the coalition said.
The coalition cited concerns about low-frequency noise and health concerns at the Shirley wind project in Brown County. Those concerns should prompt the commission to bar the Highland project and other wind farms until they are addressed, the group said.
Meanwhile, the green energy advocacy group Renew Wisconsin also weighed in Monday, noting the PSC had allowed Milwaukee-based We Energies to curtail certain turbines to comply with nighttime noise limits at the Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County.
“In fact, we believe that operational curtailment is the most effective tool available to a wind-power project operator for reducing sonic output from individual wind turbines to allowable levels,” Renew Wisconsin policy director Michael Vickerman said.
Fast action sought
The developer is seeking quick action from the commission because it wants its wind farm to be considered by Xcel Energy Inc., which recently announced it was seeking bids for additional wind power to serve its customers in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Xcel operates a utility based in Eau Claire but in essence operates its utilities as one system serving parts of both states.
In its filing, Highland said it would be a waste of potential economic development to keep the project from proceeding on a technical matter that can be easily addressed.
Opponents of the project are concerned about noise, shadow flicker and the potential loss of property value associated with the project.
But Highland said the project as submitted complies with the state’s wind siting rules, which specifically allow developers to comply with the noise standard by curtailing production at certain times.