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Highland asks PSC to reopen hearing

Highland Wind Farm LLC has filed a petition with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin in an attempt to reopen its hearing for a proposed industrial turbine project in the Town of Forest.

The PSC previously denied Highland's wind farm application Feb. 14. The PSC then denied a request from Highland to reconsider its decision at a March 1 meeting.

In its newest petition filed on April 4, Highland's attorney John Wilson indicates that developers of the proposed 44-turbine project can answer previous concerns expressed by PSC commissioners.

The PSC's denial centered around sound levels emitted by turbines at night. Commissioners feared that noise levels of operating turbines would exceed state standards and it would negatively impact nearby homeowners.

In his official filing, Wilson notes that noise levels could be managed by slowing down the blades during high wind situations. He said state rules allow for such operational efforts when dealing with excessive noise.

Wilson also notes that Highland would test sound levels once the turbines are operating, and test annually for three years, to ensure that neighbors aren't harmed.

According to the filing, Highland officials are also willing to comply with project conditions previously discussed by the PSC, including good-neighbor payments to adjoining landowners; necessary road repairs in Forest and Cylon; installation of collector circuits underground; and bat mortality studies.

Wilson asks the PSC to act on Highland's request quickly, so the developer can take advantage of production tax credit that make the wind farm financially feasible.

If the PSC allows the hearing to be reopened, Wilson asks that additional testimony be limited to issues brought up at the Feb. 14 hearing. He also asks that a ruling on the application be made quickly.

If the PSC does not allow the hearing to be reopened, Wilson requested that a new hearing be scheduled for the wind farm plan. To start from the beginning, however, would cost everyone involved a lot more time and money, Wilson said.

According to Jay Mundinger, founding principal with Highland, developers hope the PSC will rule on the new request within six to eight weeks.

Mundinger said the company remains convinced that it can operate safely in the Town of Forest and be a good neighbor to existing residents.

Brenda Salseg, a member of Forest Voice, a grassroots group opposed to the wind farm plan, said the majority of local people remain opposed to the project.

She pointed to the recent re-election of the town board as proof that Highland's plan is not viewed as a good idea.

"Once again, residents re-elected the current town board and sent a clear message that industrial wind development is not welcome in our township," she said. "The members and supporters of the Forest Voice remain committed to fight to protect our property investments and quality of life."

Salseg said the turbine curtailment idea to reduce noise levels makes no sense, because it "defeats the purpose of Production Tax Credits (PTCs), which are paid out based on electrical production."

The proposed Forest Township project consisting of up to 44 turbines would generate 102.5 megawatts of electricity once completed, enough to power 30,000 homes.

The wind farm has been a controversial topic in the Town of Forest for several years, after the previous town board voted in 2010 to approve a development agreement and other permits with the turbine company.

As a result of that action, the elected officials were recalled by voters and an entirely new town board was put in place.

When the town took action to rescind the previous agreements and permits, Highland officials changed their original and smaller proposal so that the project exceeded 100 megawatts of electricity generation. Projects over 100 megawatts fall under the approval authority of the PSC, thus bypassing town and county approval processes.