Wind farm map 1228

Developers have applied to the Public Service Commission for a permit to build a large wind farm in western Wisconsin, the first application of its kind in more than two years.

Emerging Energies applied this month to build Highland Wind Farm, a 41-turbine, 102.5-megawatt project in the St. Croix County towns of Forest and Cylon, about 25 miles east of the Minnesota border.

The application comes as new wind siting rules remain in limbo in the PSC, with officials trying to broker a deal between the wind industry and its critics.

William Rakocy, a founding member of Hubertus-based Emerging Energies, said his company understands there is still some uncertainty surrounding Wisconsin's wind energy regulations, but he feels confident about the project.

"I guess we would like to believe that more reasonable minds will prevail," he said.

The new wind siting rules, more than a year in the making, were suspended just before going into effect in March. Those rules required that wind turbines have a setback from the nearest property line of 1.1 times the height of the turbine, or roughly 450 feet. The rules also required turbines be no closer than 1,250 feet from the nearest residence.

Gov. Scott Walker proposed changes to those rules, pushing the setback from the property line — not just a dwelling — to 1,800 feet, or about a third of a mile. That legislation did not pass but did lead Republicans to ask the Public Service Commission to negotiate a new deal.

Those rules are for projects under 100 megawatts. The Highland project is larger and does not specifically fall under the rules under debate. But state law requires PSC officials to consider the yet-to-be-approved rules when considering projects of greater than 100 megawatts.

This is only the beginning of the process, and the PSC has 30 days to determine if the application is complete. The agency has up to 360 days to make a decision.

The last wind farm application received by the PSC was for a 150-megawatt project in the towns of Morrison, Holland and Wrightstown in Brown County. It was not built after the PSC deemed its application incomplete.

Dan Rustowicz of Minnesota's Redwind Consulting, a wind farm builder, said he is glad to hear about the application.

"That is a really good sign," he said. "But we still need to get these rules resolved. Clarity is powerful."