No emergency: Highland's request rebuffed by PSC
The developers of the proposed Highland Wind Farm are up against an important deadline, if their latest filings with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin are to be believed.
But when Highland's request for emergency reconsideration of its plan to install up to 44 industrial wind turbines in the Town of Forest went before the PSC March 1, the majority of the commissioners had little sympathy for the situation.
The PSC denied the application from Emerging Energies of Wisconsin, Highland's developer, at its Feb. 14 meeting, citing inconclusive information about the wind farm's ability to meet state standards related to noise from turbines.
But Highland quickly turned around and asked the PSC to look at the application again, noting that the PSC could approve the application on the condition that noise standards be met. Highland officials noted that they hoped to partner with Xcel Energy in an effort to make the wind farm project financially viable, but they claimed the deadline for that partnership was the end of March.
At the March 1 PSC meeting, Commissioner Ellen Nowak said the typical process for an emergency reconsideration usually does not occur until a final determination is finalized and published. The PSC's previous denial had yet to become official.
"Nothing new has happened since our decision two weeks ago," she said, suggesting that the PSC decision should continue to stand.
She also said she doubted that Highland will miss out on an opportunity to work with Xcel, but even if that's what happens it's not the PSC's fault. Highland claimed it would lose its $2 million investment into the project if there was any further delay in the approval process.
"Loss of an economic investment is not a reason to grant an emergency petition," Nowak said. "Risk of losing an investment is inherent in an endeavor such as this. Highland was aware of that risk when they increased the project size and moved it to our jurisdiction."
PSC Chairman Phil Montgomery said he was inclined to deny the request for consideration, and a request for additional testimony. He said the PSC staff should continue to work on the final decision and related paperwork from Feb. 14.
Commissioner Eric Callisto disagreed. He said Highland finds itself in a "unique situation" and the PSC has sided with previous project applicants who faced similar dilemmas.
If the project was allowed to move forward, with conditions that noise standards be met, both Xcel and its customers would benefit, Callisto said.
He suggested the PSC approve the request, and allow the opponents of the Highland project to submit additional testimony until March 13. Then the PSC could act on the matter at its next meeting March 25.
In the end, the commission voted 2-1 to deny the emergency reconsideration request. Callisto cast the lone dissenting vote.
In response to the decision, Jay Mundinger, founding principal for Highland, said the company continues to explore its options on possible next steps.
"The delay in the approval process has jeopardized a current Xcel proposal that we have been working to complete," he said. "However we are confident that eventually this project will be approved and built."
Mundinger said the developers continue to believe that sound standards can be met by powering down the turbines at night. He said turbine operations would rarely have to be curtailed to reduce noise levels, however.
Brenda Salseg, a member of The Forest Voice, a citizens group opposed to the Highland project, said she continues to be pleased with the PSC's decisions.
She added, however, that the fight likely isn't over.
"Should the wind developer decide to continue to pursue our township, Forest Voice members and supporters will stand ready to defend their homes and fight for everyone's constitutional and human rights," she said.