A bill requiring the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (“PSC”) to develop uniform siting standards for all wind energy projects less than 100 megawatts (“MW”) in size passed the State Senate on Tuesday, September 15, 2009, and the State Assembly on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 and is headed to the Governor for a signature.
As first discussed in our July 16, 2009 client alert titled, “A Win for Wind Development in Wisconsin,” the bill requires the PSC to develop uniform siting standards that a municipality must comply with in regulating wind projects smaller than 100 MW. The PSC rules would address procedural requirements of the local review process as well as a myriad of substantive issues which could include visual appearance and lighting, electrical connections to the power grid, setback distances, maximum audible sound levels, shadow flicker, interference with radio signals and decommissioning. Under the bill, before a municipality could regulate such projects, it would be required to adopt a siting ordinance that is no more stringent than the uniform standards. The purpose of this legislation is to provide a state-wide regulatory scheme that wind developers could rely on, but that would still allow local municipalities the ability to provide input on local land use issues.
Once the bill becomes law, the real battle over siting standards will take place during the PSC’s rulemaking procedure. The bill requires PSC to establish a permanent Wind Siting Council, made up of stakeholders such as wind energy developers, political subdivisions, energy groups, and environmental groups, to advise the PSC and provide input on rules to be developed. The Council would also be required to survey peer-reviewed scientific research regarding health impacts of wind energy systems, study developments in state and national regulation of such systems and report its findings to the legislature every five years.
Once promulgated, state-wide uniform siting standards will provide a substantial level of certainty for wind energy project developers seeking to install generation capacity in Wisconsin. This will provide Wisconsin more flexibility in terms of energy sources, which in turn may also provide an opportunity for the state to become more involved in local production, distribution, utilization, and maintenance of wind energy components. The combination of new energy sources and potential economic benefits would appear to be a win-win for Wisconsin.