The long stalemate over windmill siting rules could become a moot point if the Legislature approves a new bill that keeps the power over turbine placement in the hands of local officials.
Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, late last week introduced a bill that would allow officials in cities, villages, towns and counties to establish the minimum distance between a wind turbine and a home — even if those rules are more restrictive than any the state tries to enact.
"The situation now is sort of lawless," said Rob Kovach, Lasee's chief of staff. "Townships don't really know where they stand."
New statewide wind siting rules, more than a year in the making, were suspended just before going into effect last March. Lawmakers sent those rules, which dealt with wind farms of less than 100 megawatts, back to the state Public Service Commission, where they have stayed as officials worked to reach a compromise between industry supporters and their critics.
"The whole reason for statewide rules is to have consistency and regulatory certainty," said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, an advocacy group focused on renewable energy. "This bill, if it passes, would essentially say the state is off limits to wind power."
The location of windmills has been a controversial issue in the state. Critics of the industry contend the energy generators hurt property values and can lead to health problems.
The rules being worked on by the PSC would have 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 for an average windmill. The rules also required turbines be at least 1,250 feet away from the nearest residence.
Lasee's bill would supersede the rules in all areas where they conflict, namely placing the power to determine setbacks in the hands of local governments. It also would change the rules dealing with wind projects larger than 100 megawatts, forcing the PSC to respect the rules established by local officials.
If no new wind siting bills are adopted by March, the rules stuck in the PSC will go into effect.