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Wind farm idea zapped back to life

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news New Richmond, 54017
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MADISON - The clock began ticking Friday on state regulators to review an application to construct a 102.5 mega-watt wind energy farm in the towns of Forest and Cylon.

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By statute, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission has 30 days to determine if the application submitted by Highland Wind Farm LCC is complete, and if so, then six months to approve or deny it. If necessary, a circuit court can grant the PSC a six-month extension.

The HWF project has been a controversy in the Town of Forest since the town board approved a wind development agreement with the wind farm developer, Emerging Energies of Wisconsin, in 2008. That agreement was modified in 2010 but proved to be unpopular with residents who removed the board in a recall election in February.

Rick Steinberger, elected in February, said that within a month the new board rescinded previously adopted wind development agreements and in August enacted a wind energy system licensing ordinance that Steinberger said better "protects the town than existing state regulations."

"Realistically, we're not protected by the state guidelines," which is why the town adopted an ordinance with more restrictions than state regulations on turbine setbacks, noise levels and shadow flicker," he said.

In response, HWF increased the size of the project from 97 to 102.5 megawatts, making it subject to state and not town regulation. How much involvement the town will have in the state's approval process remains to be seen, said Steinberger.

"I'm just one vote on the board...and I haven't read through the application yet and I don't have a comment on it," Steinberger said Monday.

Town Chairman Jamie Junker also said he would withhold any comment on the wind farm application and what response the town should take until he has reviewed it.

William Rakocy, a founding member of Emerging Energies, now EEW Services LCC, said the project was increased in size in response to an unresponsive town board.

"We would have been pleased to work with the town; we tried to in the past. The previous town board was reasonable to work with, but the new town board has not responded to any attempts to communicate with them so we're going ahead," Rakocy said.

Rakocy said the $250 million wind farm represents Wisconsin's best option for renewable energy and should be approved.

"Every other energy source has a fuel requirement to bring it the state; there's a fuel cost associated with bringing in coal, uranium for nuclear power and even natural gas. We don't have any of those energy sources in Wisconsin but we do have wind," he said.

Rakocy, of Hubertus, Wis., also said the project will need approval from several other state and federal agencies including the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Unlike public utilities, EEW Services LCC won't have to prove there is a demand for the electricity produced by the project. Rakocy could sell the project once it's approved but he disputed he was taking a route through the regulatory process that avoids having to prove demand.

"This doesn't avoid anything. There's been a clearly defined process in the state of Wisconsin for several years. There are questions to be answered by utilities and questions to be answered by independent power producers. We've answered the questions the application has required," he said.

Rakocy said he hopes the economy recovers in the two to three years it takes to approve and construct the wind farm so there is more electrical demand. If the project is approved he will be look for an investor to fund and build it.

If the project goes according to plan, construction could start in early 2013 and be completed in about a year, Rakocy said.

The PSC retains siting jurisdiction over the HWF project. Although siting regulations approved by the PSC earlier this year have been suspended by the Legislature, the PSC will at least need to consider if the application is consistent with the suspended rules, according to statement the PSC issued Monday.

The PSC welcomes public comment on the project once it determines the application complete. The application has been posted to the PSC's website: psc.wi.gov. The HWF docket number: 2535-CE-100.

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