This week, Wisconsin's Wind Siting Council submitted its final recommendations for the proper siting of wind energy facilities to the Public Service Commission. The standards promoted by the Council are some of the weakest Windaction.org has reviewed, especially for a State with a history of turbine complaints reported by its residents.
For more than five years now, communities throughout Wisconsin worked within State law to establish local regulations that would protect their residents from improperly sited wind energy projects. Different study committees statewide collected volumes of evidence on the effects of smaller renewable energy projects. New local laws were passed that established larger setbacks and more comprehensive sound-level limits. Wisconsin's local laws stood as models for other communities worldwide.
But Wisconsin State legislators viewed these efforts as nothing more than delay tactics and moved to nullify local jurisdiction on any size projects. In September 2009, the legislature passed Senate Bill 185 placing all wind energy oversight in the hands of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission ("PSC"), thus negating the local regulations. Thousands of man-hours invested by communities were potentially erased, but for one opportunity: The bill required that an advisory panel of wind developers, local government officials, environmentalists and landowners be formed to guide and advise the Commission on proper siting standards. Commission spokesman Tim LeMonds insisted in the press that the standards would be based on science.
Six months later, the Wind Siting Council was formed and its 15-members appointed.
Since March, the Council heard and debated evidence submitted on the impacts of existing turbine facilities on people and their animals. Expert testimony provided by Epidemiologist Carl V. Phillips concluded "There is ample scientific evidence to conclude that wind turbines cause serious health problems for some people living nearby. ...The reports that claim that there is no evidence of health effects are based on a very simplistic understanding of epidemiology and self-serving definitions of what does not count as evidence. Though those reports probably seem convincing prima facie, they do not represent proper scientific reasoning, and in some cases the conclusions of those reports do not even match their own analysis."
Acoustics and noise control expert Richard D. Horonjeff, explained how and why turbine noise differs from other types of noises within a community and Dr. Herbert S. Coussons, a physician, laid out the medical reasons why the Council should be conservative in determining setback distances from where people live, work, and attend school.
The final recommendations of the Council were released this week, and it's not good.
The recommended guidelines deviated little from the conditions placed on the Glacial Hills wind project approved by the PSC earlier this year. Setback distances from property lines were recommended to be 1.1x the total height of the tower measured from any property line, residence, or occupied community building, noise limits were set at 50 db(a) during the day and 45 db(a) at night, shadow flicker permitted up to a whopping 40 hours in the year and no property value protection plan.
Only minimum standards on sound and shadow flicker were deemed needed based on the Council's finding "that the scientific evidence does not support a conclusion that wind turbines cause adverse health outcomes."
On property value impacts, the report found "there is not sufficient evidence to warrant requiring a property value protection plan for properties neighboring wind turbines." However, they conceded some risk to adjacent property owners and offered "developers should, as a standard practice, offer non-participating landowners a financial stake - a wind easement - in a project."
But this should not surprise anyone. Those observing the Council throughout this process informed Windaction.org that the fix was in even before the Council's first meeting.
Its membership was dominated by individuals who either worked for companies involved in wind energy development or were vocal proponents of the industry. To be blunt, the majority had some financial interest in the outcome of the rules. It was a clear case of the wind industry drafting its own regulatory guidelines.
The defining moment came during the Council's June 9th meeting when the Chairman, Dan Ebert of WPPI Energy, a utility in the State, presented his "straw proposal" for what he thought the siting standards should be. A transcript of Ebert's speech that day suggests a leader trying to move the process forward. But the details of his proposal prove his real intent -- his relaxed standards were a gift to the industry.
After that, Ebert had no interest in working toward consensus. Why should he? With the Council now focused on his minimum standards, he needed only to act as gatekeeper deciding which changes warranted inclusion and those that could be ignored. It was an easy task since ten others at the table supported his position. And, as anticipated, Ebert's standards ultimately defined the final report. Mission accomplished.
It's clear now that the only reason for forming the Council was to create an air of legitimacy around industry-favored recommendations. From this point forward, the Council's report will serve as the hammer to silence the public, and bind the Commissioners' hands for years to come.
It's difficult to anticipate what's next for Wisconsin communities trying to protect their residents from their own State. But there is one shining light in this story.
The four members of the Council who did not agree with Ebert and his ilk prepared a minority report where they highlighted their concerns, including the industry bias in the Council's membership. The minority report, which appears at the end of the final document, deserves careful consideration by readers trying to evaluate the veracity of the majority's view.
 Smaller projects are those under 100 megawatts in size. Projects that were 100 megawatts or larger fell under the jurisdiction of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.
 Senate Bill 185 was a second attempt by the legislature to remove local authority. The first bill, rushed in early 2008, did not have enough votes to pass.
 The following people were appointed to serve on Wisconsin’s Wind Siting Council:
Dan Ebert, WPPI Energy
David Gilles, Godfrey & Kahn (former WI PSC general counsel)
Tom Green, Wind Capital Group
Jennifer Heinzen, Lakeshore Technical College (President of RENEW WI)
Andy Hesselbach, We Energies
George Krause Jr., Choice Residential LLC
Lloyd Lueschow, Green County
Jevon McFadden, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public Health
Tom Meyer, Restaino & Associates
Bill Rakocy, Emerging Energies of Wisconsin, LLC
Dwight Sattler, Landowner (3,700 feet from a turbine)
Ryan Schryver, Clean Wisconsin
Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
Larry Wunsch, Landowner (1,100 feet from a turbine)
Doug Zweizig, Union Township