Forest asks PSC to reconsider Highland Wind Farm permit

By LeAnn R. Ralph

TOWN OF FOREST —  Following approval of the Highland Wind Farm project in October, attorneys for the Town of Forest have asked the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to reduce the decibel limits and to reconsider the approval.

 A motion to ask the PSC to change the rules after the commission had already approved the wind turbine project was filed on November 14.

Wisconsin’s existing rules state that wind turbines can operate at 50 decibels during the day and 45 decibels at night.

The Forest Town Board would like to set the limit at 40 decibels or less.

Conversation in a restaurant or an office with background music is 60 decibels.

An air conditioning unit one hundred feet away also is 60 decibels.

Rainfall is 50 decibels, and a refrigerator operates at 40 decibels.

A ticking watch is 20 decibels.

The Highland Wind Farm project that would generate up to 102.5 megawatts of electricity with more than 40 wind turbines was designed according to the current regulations of 50 decibels during the day and 45 at night.

According to the motion asking the PSC to reconsider, wind turbine noise is louder inside of a house than outside because the house is “reinforcing and amplifying the very low frequency energy.”

Another hearing

Attorneys for the Town of Forest also filed a motion on November 14 with the PSC for reconsideration of the approval given for the Highland Wind Farm project and a rehearing on the matter.

According to the motion, the first reason that the PSC should reconsider the decision on Highland is that the PSC should have asked for a second supplemental environmental assessment and an environmental impact statement.

At issue prior to the PSC’s approval of the Highland project was whether the wind turbines could be operated at different speeds under different conditions to address noise concerns.

The use of computer software to operate the turbines at different speeds under different wind conditions at different times of the day to reduce noise “is an unprecedented, untested experiment, and the project should have received a second environmental assessment,” according to the brief filed by attorneys representing the Forest Town Board.

According to the brief, the PSC also should have required an environmental impact statement.

The purpose of an environmental assessment, the brief notes, “is to determine whether the proposed project warrants the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement.”

The brief also argues that the PSC should not have excluded evidence related to alternative turbines proposed by the Town of Forest.

Instead of using the turbines that Highland Wind Farm designed the project around, the Forest Town Board is arguing that Highland should use smaller turbines recommended by the town board.

75 percent for wind

The motion for reconsideration uses the argument, too, that the PSC should have referred to the Town of Forest’s Smart Growth comprehensive plan.

According to the PSC’s decision to reopen the Highland application after denying the application earlier in the year, “The Comprehensive Plan adopted by Forest expressly envisioned support for renewable energy projects.”

In surveys sent out to Town of Forest landowners prior to adopting the township’s comprehensive plan in 2009, 75 percent of the respondents said they supported wind energy. A total of 11 percent said they had no opinion, and 14 percent said they were opposed.

In recent months, the Forest Plan Commission has been working to amend the comprehensive plan to remove references to supporting wind energy, to remove right to farm provisions, and to emphasize support for residential development.

According to the motion filed on behalf of the Forest Town Board, in reopening the Highland case, the PSC should consider the “new evidence” in the Town of Forest’s comprehensive plan that Forest no longer supports wind energy.

As of the November 14 date when the motion was filed, the Town of Forest did not have an amended comprehensive plan that does not support wind energy. The original comprehensive plan that supports wind energy was still the official comprehensive plan.

The Forest Plan Commission has not sent out new surveys to landowners so it is not clear what the plan commission is basing the change from supporting wind energy to not supporting wind energy since 75 percent of landowners who took the time to send the survey back a few years ago said they supported wind energy.

According to state law, amending a comprehensive plan requires public participation and a written public participation plan.

The public participation for the original comprehensive plan included surveys sent out to landowners and residents and visioning sessions where Forest residents were able to talk about what they wanted to see in the township.

Smaller turbines

The brief also states that the PSC should reopen the Highland application and receive new evidence submitted by the Town of Forest about using smaller turbines rather than the evidence submitted by Highland Wind Farm for curtailing the turbines when necessary to control noise.

A request for a rehearing must be filed within 20 days of the final decision.

The PSC has 30 days to act on scheduling a rehearing on the approval of the Highland Wind Farm application. If within 30 days a rehearing has not been scheduled, by state law, the request is considered denied.

The hearing itself does not need to be scheduled within 30 days and can be scheduled as is practical.

By state law, the PSC can make an emergency rule without a notice, hearing or publication if the rule preserves the public peace, health safety or welfare and necessitates putting the rule in place prior to the time it would take to comply with state law.

According to financial records from the Town of Forest, the Forest Town Board has spent in the neighborhood of $400,000 on attorneys and expert witnesses to fight against the wind turbines.