August 21, 2008

Farm Proposal Blows in Wind in Columbia County

By Paul Snyder

In recent years, residents across the state balked at proposals to build wind farms where they live. In Columbia County that's not the case -- yet.

"The landowners I've talked to are pretty much in favor of it," said Randolph Town Chairman David Hughes. "I'm hoping it works, but, of course, I have to look after the people of the town, too."

If opposition remains light in the towns of Randolph and Scott in Columbia County, it could be easy sailing for We Energies' Randolph Wind Project, which would entail up to 90 turbines in the two towns.

We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said the company wants to generate about 145 megawatts of energy with the wind farm, and a formal proposal likely will be submitted to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin this fall.

Wind farm projects met strong resistance in Trempealeau and Rock counties this year, and several local governments passed ordinances to limit the amount of available land for sites. But Scott and Randolph officials are willing to hear the plan proposal.

"There are still a lot of unanswered questions," Hughes said. "I've gone past the turbines in the Fond du Lac and Calumet area, but I've never taken the time to stop and listen. I think we'll be meeting up with our attorney and taking some board members up to do that soon."

But Hughes declined to comment on whether this was likely to result in the creation of a local ordinance. John Bluemke, the county's director of planning and zoning, did not return calls to comment on countywide rules.

Scott Town Supervisor Cindy Zook said the Town Board won't take a stance on the project until it hears from more residents.

"We're still deciding whether to hold meetings or wait for people to come to us because we don't know how to proceed until we hear from them," she said.

The first major public meeting in the area was scheduled for Tuesday night.

Manthey said We Energies picked up an option on the project from Florida Power & Light Co. when it sold the Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant.

"Renewable energy is on our front burner," he said. "With the state's renewable portfolio standards, we're trying to get as much as possible."

The state set a goal to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2025.

Hughes is familiar with the state's efforts to increase renewable energy output. He also was involved at a local level when United Wisconsin Grain Producers LLC built an ethanol plant in Friesland a couple of years ago.

"(Twenty-five percent) is a big mandate for companies," he said. "And wind is truly a renewable resource. But there are always those against change."

Strong opposition remains to letting the state take charge in establishing wind-farm siting ordinances. But even though a bill to create statewide standards failed to pass in the last legislative session, state lawmakers said it will be back in the next session.

In spite of local ordinances, if a proposed wind farm project generates more than 100 megawatts of power, state law says the PSC has final say on its location.

While that law has been a point of contention recently in places like the town of Magnolia, Manthey said it's important for those proposing the projects to keep in close contact with the landowners.

"Our Blue Sky Green Field project (in Calumet) wasn't entirely without objection," he said. "But we had a very close relationship with landowners and government entities. It all starts with communication and being up front."

Originally published by Paul Snyder.

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