AWEA has a tantrum -- again

Wind energy is unreliable.

But there's one thing we can always count on -- AWEA tantrums, which are getting to be regular occurrences.

Last month we were treated to a week of whining by the American Wind Energy Association after the Obama Administration and GOP leaders released the terms for extending the Bush-era tax cuts. The outburst was triggered after learning the tax agreement negotiated with the White House omitted any reference to extending the Section 1603 tax grant program (ITC), a program introduced in 2009 under ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) and due to sunset end of 2010. The costly stimulus program provides direct cash grants to wind developers in lieu of the production tax credit for up to 30% of their capital costs, no questions asked. Like a recording stuck on replay, AWEA's Denise Bode's shrill warnings about job loss and immediate harm to the industry repeated non-stop until lawmakers relented and sanctioned a 1-year extension.

Last week, AWEA was in a huff again. This time the target was the new governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.

For more than five years, communities throughout Wisconsin worked within State law to establish local regulations that would protect homeowners and families from improperly sited wind energy projects. Projects under 100 megawatts were subject to these local standards which stood as models for other communities worldwide[1].

The wind industry complained bitterly to then governor Jim Doyle and the State legislature about the new local regulations. With setbacks ranging from 1800 feet to 1 mile, the industry insisted the laws were nothing more than "de facto moratoria" and should be overturned.

In September 2009 the State complied. Senate Bill 185 was signed into law placing all wind energy oversight in the hands of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission ("PSC"). Last year, the Commission voted on siting rules recommended by the advisory Wind Siting Council. The PSC's new siting standards became law on January 1.

Thousands of man-hours invested by communities in research, public hearings, and expert testimony were erased and replaced with some of the weakest standards Windaction.org has reviewed, especially for a State with a long history of turbine complaints filed by its residents. The most egregious of the rules involved setback distances (1250 feet as measured from to the outside wall of a residence or community building), noise limits (50 dBA during daytime hours and 45 dBA during nighttime hours) and shadow flicker (30 hours per year).

Last week, Wisconsin's new governor, Scott Walker entered the debate and like clockwork, AWEA had a fit.

In his proposed regulatory bill, Walker included a provision that increased turbine setbacks to 1800 feet from the property line.

Within a day of his bill going public AWEA's temper tantrum was in full swing.

"Job killer!"

"New regulation effectively bans wind energy projects in Wisconsin."

"One of the most onerous regulations we have seen."

"A shock to those of us in the wind industry."

"Wisconsin does not want our business."

You get the picture.

And there's no question the pitch will rise and the rhetoric will become even more extreme in the days ahead. We've seen it before from AWEA -- wild and unsubstantiated claims played over and over until the government blinks. And since the group has had some success with tantrums it's no surprise it doesn't bother to change tactics.

But Ms. Bode may want to check her facts on wind regulations. Setbacks of 1,800 feet are hardly the largest in the United States or worldwide. If projects in Wisconsin are unable to meet this limited standard then it could be the population density in the State is too high for safe wind development. But expecting AWEA to respond in a realistic and professional manner is probably asking too much.

Governor Walker has taken an important first step towards recognizing that the residents of Wisconsin deserve consideration. In an e-mail statement to media outlets in Wisconsin, Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie said the proposal is aimed at "addressing concerns on wind energy policy that impact homeowners" and that "the proposed legislation, if enacted, will protect private property owners' rights."

Perhaps AWEA's members should remove their wind hats for a moment and at least try to imagine what it means to live in the shadows of the massive towers they're erecting. They might see that eighteen-hundred feet is still much too close.

[1] Larger projects, those greater than 100 megawatts, fell under the jurisdiction of the State's Public Service Commission.

JAN 17 2011
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