The wind turbines have stopped turning in Wisconsin, figuratively speaking. For months, the rewrite of rules governing the siting of wind energy farms has been stalled. New investments and new jobs also have been stalled because of that, and there is no good reason for it.
When Gov. Scott Walker took office in January he worked to short-circuit the rule-making process which was then almost complete after two years. The Public Service Commission had reached a compromise with interest groups which would have placed the wind turbine towers about 450 feet away from the nearest property line but no less than 1,250 feet from the nearest residence. Walker wanted the property line setback increased to 1,800 feet.
Ultimately, a legislative committee didn’t act on a bill containing Walker’s proposed standard and instead ordered the PSC to start over. That’s where the process remains. A member of the agency told the Wisconsin State Journal that talks have made no progress and are stuck over the same old issues: noise, setback distance and effect on the value of neighboring properties.
If there is no progress by March the PSC’s original regulations will take effect anyway, but wind farm opponents have no incentive to negotiate. All they have to do is wait. Either wind energy proponents capitulate and give them what they want, or the Legislature writes a new law which gives them what they want or Walker, with his new power to review regulations first, will give them what they want.
There is a high price for this stalling. Since the rules were becalmed, five major wind energy projects have been suspended or canceled. Those would have infused about $1.6 billion in economic development and created about 1,000 temporary full-time jobs. By contrast, the proposed northern Wisconsin iron mine which the Legislature is looking to accommodate is supposed to bring a $1.5 billion investment and 700 jobs.
The head of one wind energy company said there is too much uncertainty in Wisconsin to justify continued work. It was an ironic statement because Walker has consistently said that one of his goals is to provide more certainty for businesses.
The sad part of all this is that it didn’t have to happen. It is not uncommon for one administration to eviscerate the policies of its predecessor, but that does not help residents. We have rule-making processes so that strident interest groups can be brought to compromise. Without compromise there is no progress, and this is why people are so frustrated with Congress. It is why we should also be frustrated with the Walker administration and the people who want their own way instead of seeking a middle way.
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