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John Strom (left) and LaVerne Hoitomt are two Town of Forest residents who are opposed to the Highland Wind Farm project proposed for northeastern St. Croix County. They hope the Public Service Commission determines that the proposed project does not fit the local community and does not belong there.

Forest Voice hopes to take wind out of turbine plan

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business New Richmond, 54017
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

There's a favorable political wind blowing in Wisconsin for future turbine projects designed to generate electricity.

When the state legislature adjourned last week, no action was taken to amend wind turbine siting rules that had been temporarily suspended over the past 12 months. As a result of the inaction, the previously adopted rules went into effect with little or no fanfare.

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That was good news, according to Jay Mundinger, founding principal of Emerging Energies of Wisconsin LLC, which is proposing a 41-turbine wind farm in the Town of Forest in northeastern St. Croix County.

Mundinger said the state rules now provide a "uniform standard" for siting and constructing turbines across the state.

"We're excited about that," he said. "It gives us definite guidelines to follow."

With the rules now in place, Mundinger said the Highland Wind Farm LLC project and others across Wisconsin can proceed. He said the turbines will not only generate alternative and green energy, the wind farms will create jobs and provide significant annual payments to landowners and communities.

Wisconsin's new turbine siting rules are comparable to other states in the Midwest, thus opening the state to even more wind farms in the future, Mundinger said.

The other side

The news about the state rules was not as welcomed by some landowners in the Town of Forest. An active group of opponents to the Highland project, called the Forest Voice, continues to contend that the turbines don't belong in this rural township.

"This (the state rules) makes it very ugly for us," said John Strom, a town resident. "The non-participating parcels will be impacted. This is very bad news for Forest Township."

Strom and LaVerne Hoitomt, another town resident, are upset that the new rules allow wind turbines, which would be about 500 feet tall in Forest, to be within 1,250 feet of a current residence.

Even at that distance, Strom contends, homeowners will be negatively impacted by noise, shadows and "flicker."

Strom said emerging research indicates that people who live near wind turbines may suffer from health effects related to their operation.

The impact of infrasound (sound waves generated at a level below the human ear's audible range) has caused trouble in numerous homes that are next to turbines, he claimed.

"You're going to get more headaches and you're going to get more cranky than normal, and you won't know why," he explained.

Hoitomt said "flicker" from turbines has forced many homeowners to put heavy blankets in their windows to shield the interior from shadows generated by the blades in motion.

Strom claims that voltage collector circuits, that will likely be buried in town ditches, could be cause for concern as well. If the wind farm project goes ahead, Strom claims, when people go to their mailboxes they might be standing above high voltage lines.

Hoitomt said there are also concerns that those collector lines might interfere with telephone or television reception in the area.

Apart from the health concerns, Strom said, the loss of land rights by non-participating landowners is significant. If a turbine is placed about 1,250 away from a home, any land within that 1,250 radius would have building restrictions placed on it limiting any future housing, garage or shed projects. A more reasonable siting guideline would be 1,250 feet from a turbine to the nearest property line, Strom said, so land rights on adjoining properties are not impacted.

Strom noted that more than 75 percent of Forest residents oppose the wind farm project, and that three-quarters of the town's population owns about 85 percent of the land in the township.

"We're not anti-wind," Strom said. "We are against irresponsible siting. You shouldn't have turbines in a densely populated or small parcel area like Forest."

Strom claims only 18 turbines could comfortably be located in the Town of Forest, but the Highland Wind Farm proposal was bumped up to 41 units because the developer wanted to bypass local rules related to turbine siting.

It's unclear now if local voices will be able to sway the PSC's decision on the matter, Strom said. No application for a wind farm has ever been overturned by the PSC, Strom claimed.

"The passions on this are running extremely high" Strom admitted. "People are scared. People are angry and people are frustrated."

The beginning

That's not the way things started out. Emerging Energies and town officials worked cooperatively for a number of years to bring the turbines in. But eventually an outcry from some local residents over the wind issue resulted in the entire Forest Town Board being recalled by voters.

A new board was subsequently elected and previous permits and approvals were voided. Those opposed to the wind project charged that the previous board and Emerging Energies worked quietly behind-the-scenes to push the project ahead and few people realized what was going on.

To keep the project on course, Highland officials increased the size of the project and applied with the Public Service Commission for approval. Emerging Energies is awaiting word about whether their application is complete. If the application is accepted, the process of approvals will officially kick in.

Mundinger said his company has worked hard to address concerns that some residents have and is open to answering questions in the future.

"We've always tried to address them," he said.

As the approval process through the Wisconsin Public Utilities Commission progresses, Mundinger said there will be additional opportunities for public input and questions during hearings conducted locally.

Town reacts

The Town of Forest board voted for full intervener status with the PSC, meaning they are seeking input as the approval process moves ahead.

The current board is officially on record stating that the "wind energy system as currently proposed is not in the best interests of the health, safety and welfare of the residents of Forest."

According to Town Chairman Jaime Junker, the town board will ask the PSC to consider the town's wind energy system licensing ordinance, and use those requirements as standards that are necessary to protect the public health and safety of residents.

"The reality is that Highland's proposal does not come close to complying with the requirements of the ordinance," according to a press release from the Forest Town Board.

The main issue, Junker said, is the health and safety of local residents.

"Whereas wind energy systems approved five years ago may have been considered safe at the time, studies done on these systems since that time period show greater (negative) impacts on public health and safety," Junker said.

Junker also countered claims by Emerging Energies officials that they are adequately addressing concerns of residents. He claimed the recent public relations push is only an effort by the company to make it appear like they are reaching out to the community.

The town has retained the firm of Reynolds & Associates to represent the town's interests in the PSC process.

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