By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF FOREST — The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin has approved the Highland Wind Farm application for the Town of Forest to build up to 44 wind turbines with the substation located in the Town of Cylon.
On a vote of 2 to 1, the PSC approved the application September 26 after issuing an order to reopen the application May 14.
According to a news release from Emerging Energies of Wisconsin, “We applaud the Public Service Commission vote today (2-1) and commission Chairman Phil Montgomery in particular for listening to scientific reason and ultimately supporting a valuable project for the people of Wisconsin.”
The PSC initially denied Highland Wind Farm’s application in February on a vote of 2 to 1 and issued a final written decision in March.
Although two of the three PSC commissioners voted to deny the application, one commissioner wrote a five-page dissenting opinion about why the other two commissioners were wrong.
The PSC’s denial — and subsequent approval — of the Highland application revolved around computer modeling for sound limits set under Wisconsin Administrative Code PSC-128 for wind turbines, with a limit of 50 decibels during the day and 45 decibels at night.
The sound of rustling leaves is 10 decibels. A ticking watch held up to the ear is 20 decibels. A refrigerator running or a human voice speaking is 50 decibels.
According to the written decision to deny the application, none of the wind turbines would have exceeded the sound limits during the day, but at night, the turbines would have exceeded the sound limit by up to four decibels for between 20 and 45 residences.
According to the order to reopen the Highland application, “A reopening is appropriate under the unique circumstances of this case. However, the proceeding is reopened for the limited purpose of taking evidence on whether and how Highland’s proposed project can meet the proposed standards in Wisc. Admin. Code ch PSC 128.”
After the PSC had voted to re-open the case, the Town of Forest filed an appeal with an Administrative Law Judge asking that a redesign of the project be allowed using smaller wind turbines.
The ALJ rejected the testimony for redesigning the project with smaller turbines.
According to a brief filed on behalf of Highland Wind Farm, “Mr. Slaymaker’s hypothetical design using different turbines does not inform the issue of whether (Highland Wind Farm) has demonstrated that the proposed project (in the Town of Forest), using either the NordexN117 or Siemens SWT-2.3 will comply with relevant sound standards.”
The Town of Forest then filed an appeal of the Administrative Law Judge’s decision.
The PSC denied the Forest appeal of the ALJ’s decision September 13.
The PSC ruled that a co-efficient of 0.0 should be used in the re-opened application.
PSC-128 does not set a standard for a “ground absorption coefficient” for computer modeling. The coefficient can range from 0.0 to .5 to 1.0 and pertains to the type of terrain and how well it will absorb sound.
A coefficient of 0.0 refers to hard ground that will not absorb sound and 1.0 refers to conditions of terrain and topography that will absorb sound.
Highland submitted sound models using a coefficient of 0.0 and also .5 for a revised layout of the wind turbines.
According to the written decision to deny the application, Clean WI suggested using a coefficient of .5 because it would be a realistic predictor of sound considering the terrain in the Town of Forest.
The Forest Town Board and the Forest Voice wanted 0.0 used for worst-case predicted sound models.
As of November of last year, the Forest Town Board had spent about $200,000 in legal fees and consultants’ fees fighting against the proposed wind turbine project.
The Forest Voice, a group of concerned citizens, also has spent significant amounts of money.
In July of 2012, the PSC awarded the Forest Voice $20,000 in public intervenor funds but denied a request for $180,000 in additional compensation. Several weeks later, the Forest Voice filed a request for compensation in the amount of nearly $77,000, but the PSC again denied the request.
In June of this year, the Forest Voice filed a request with the PSC for money to help them with their case in the amount of $199,605.
The Forest Voice also filed a supplemental request for intervenor compensation in the amount of $37,350.
The PSC modified the request and awarded $32,000 in supplemental intervenor compensation for the Forest Voice to participate in the reopening of the Highland Wind Farm application.
Highland Wind Farm has agreements with landowners in the Town of Forest for 6,200 acres. The company spent six years and $2 million developing the 102.5 megawatt project.
Highland Wind Farm expects to employ about one hundred people in the construction phase and will permanently employ between six and eight people to operate the wind farm.
The Town of Cylon approved plans for the $5 million substation in June of 2012, and the St. Croix County Zoning Board of Adjustment approved the plans last July.
Highland Wind Farm will connect to Xcel Energy’s 161-kilovolt transmission line near the Forest-Cylon town line.
The PSC has not yet issued a formal written decision concerning the approval of the Highland Wind Farm application.