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Wind farm flap remains up in the air

Local area environmental battles continue in the Town of Forest where a motion brought by attorneys on behalf of the of the town asked the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) to reconsider its approval of Emerging Energies proposed $250 million 100 megawatt Highland Wind Farm project. The motion was rejected on Monday, Dec. 16. The town has 30 days to consider filing an appeal in circuit court.

“The decision to appeal has not been made,” said Forest Town Chair Jaime Junker. “We’ll go into closed session at our next meeting and discuss the options with our attorney.”

On Feb. 14, members of the PSC decided by a 2-1 vote to deny an application of Highland Wind Farm for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) to construct a 102.5 Megawatt (MW) Wind Electric Facility in the Town of Forest and the Town of Cylon in St. Croix County, finding their application incomplete.

On May 2, the PSC reopened Emerging Energies’ CPCN, PSC Docket No. 2535-CE-100.

On Sept. 26, the PSC voted 2-1 to approve a CPCN for Highland Wind, with additional conditions that include additional sound testing locations and sound testing periods, decommissioning costs to be worked on with the town board and other items.

In the meantime, an organization called Preserving Rural Values (PRV), made up of landowners, contracted to host turbines for the wind farm along with other pro wind farm residents, filed a petition with the Town of Forest, soliciting a meeting of the local electorate to vote to determine whether the town has the authority to continue forward with a new comprehensive zoning ordinance.

The Town of Forest is one of only two towns in St. Croix County that remains unzoned. They had been working on a new ordinance even before the wind farm filed its application, according to Junker.

“It’s time that Forest has zoning. It’s a pretty standard ordinance, nothing unusual, pretty sensible. We started working on this ordinance in October of 2011. Our planning commision had over 30 meetings about it. We’re looking for the zoning to add sensibility and some structure to the town for the next 20 to 30 years,” Junker said.

It is unclear whether the ordinance would significantly hinder the progress of the wind farm project; however, in light of the hastily assembled electorate meeting last Monday night, it appears wind farm proponents are clearly uncomfortable.

“It is pretty clear what’s going on. Emerging Energies/Highland Wind doesn’t want to see zoning happen in this town. Without zoning, they get to write their own rules,” said Brenda Salseg, a member of the Forest Voice, a group of local citizens organized to create community awareness about the realities of wind development.

“In this day and age, if you do not have zoning, you are not protected from corporations that want to come in and take advantage of your resources, assets and property. It is not wise to be unzoned,” Salseg said.

“It required 60 signatures on the petition to get this special electorate meeting. Better than half of the signatures, 43, are hosting landowners who have signed contracts with the wind developer. The law firm of record for this group is the same firm as the wind developer,” Salseg said.

“There are a lot of good attorneys to choose from in St. Croix County. If it (the vote) has nothing to do with the wind farm, why choose this particular attorney to represent you? That is just too strong of a coincidence in my mind,” Junker said.

“I just can’t speculate why PRV would care so much. Obviously Highland Wind can’t bring an action against our zoning. The only way they could would be through something like PRV, working through local residents and that would be another coincidence,” Junker said.

John Wilson of Michael Best & Friedrich, LLC, attorneys for Highland Wind Farm, LLC, had no comment.

PRV’s effort to rescind the town board’s authority to enact a zoning ordinance was defeated 130 to 108 last Monday night. Thursday night, Dec. 19, the Town of Forest zoning ordinance was unanimously approved for recommendation by the St. Croix County Community Development Committee. Their recommendation will be taken up by the County Board of Supervisors at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 7.