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PSC denies Forest’s request to reconsider Highland Wind Farm

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MADISON — The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin has denied a request from the Forest Town Board to reconsider the PSC’s approval of the Highland Wind Farm application and to hold another hearing.

The PSC’s decision is dated December 20.

On October 25, the PSC granted a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for Highland Wind Farm to build more than 40 wind turbines in the Town of Forest that are expected to generate up to 102.5 megawatts of electricity.

The substation for Highland Wind Farm will be located in the Town of Cylon.

The Highland Wind Farm project was designed according to the current state regulations of up to 50 decibels during the day and up to 45 at night.

The Forest Town Board’s motion for reconsideration asked the PSC to reduce the decibel limit and to reconsider approval of the project.

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.

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.”

PSC opinion

According to the December 20 opinion issued by the PSC, “The Town raises a variety of issues in support of its motions. None of them are a sufficient basis for reconsideration or rehearing.”

The Forest Town Board argued that allowing Highland to use adjustments to the wind turbines, called “curtailment,” to manage the sound of the wind turbines and to bring them into compliance with state law “changes the potential effect of the project.”

In the PSC’s opinion, “The turbines proposed in this docket have had the ability to curtail since the beginning. Moreover, the curtailment plan is designed to lessen the noise impact of the project and does not create new or heightened potential impacts.”

Environmental impact

The Forest Town Board also argued in the motion asking the PSC to reconsider the Highland Wind Farm approval that the PSC should have required an environmental impact statement rather than an environmental assessment.

According to the PSC’s opinion, “the findings in the environmental assessment were not sufficient to warrant preparation of an environmental impact statement.”

State administrative code determines whether an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement is necessary.

The 40-page environmental assessment, according to the PSC, analyzed a number of issues related to the project: aesthetics; agricultural resources; airports; archaeological and historic resources; community impacts; decommissioning; electromagnetic fields; land use and land cover; lighting; noise; property values; television; radio and telecommunications interference; recreation; roads; safety and emergency plans; shadow flicker; shared revenue and other local economic benefits; waterways and wetlands; wildlife; and woods.

The environmental assessment also included supplemental information on the infrasound low frequency noise measurements taken at the Shirley Wind Farm.

“The environmental assessment was appropriate,” according to the PSC’s opinion.

Alternatives

The Forest Town Board argued that the PSC should have allowed the smaller alternative turbines suggested by the Forest Town Board.

“The administrative law judge properly excluded this evidence as beyond the scope of the reopened proceedings and … this Commission affirmed that ruling,” according to the PSC opinion.

The Forest Town Board also argued that the PSC allowed Highland to consider alternatives.

The “alternatives” that the town board is referring to are the ability of the Highland turbines to be slowed down when necessary to curtail noise.

“Highland’s curtailment plan was not an alternative to the original design; the proposed turbines, from the start of the proceeding, had this ability,” according to the PSC’s opinion.

The Forest Town Board argues as well that the PSC’s final decision authorizing the Siemens SWT 2.3 wind turbine or another turbine with a similar noise profile “somehow opened the door to allow the Town to again present its proposal for smaller turbines.”

The language in the PSC’s final decision was not put there to allow Highland to use larger or smaller turbines than the Siemens model listed, but rather, would allow Highland to use another turbine with similar noise specifications, according to the PSC’s opinion.

“This would allow Highland, for example, to use an upgraded model of this turbine, should the manufacturer put one on the market. It also provides Highland with some negotiating leverage when dealing with the manufacturer so that Highland is not bound to use the Siemens SWT 2.3 and only that model,” the opinion states.

Land use plan

The Forest Town Board also argues that the PSC did not give appropriate consideration to the Town of Forest’s Smart Growth comprehensive land use plan.

“This argument is not persuasive. The Town’s land use plan clearly supports renewable energy projects, and the land use plan does not limit its support to only small projects as some in these proceedings contended. The Commission’s original determination that the wind farm will fit in and complement how the land in the area is used and planned to be used by the Town is appropriate,” according to the PSC’s opinion.

Amended plan

In addition, the Forest Town Board argues that the PSC should consider Forest’s amended comprehensive Smart Growth land use plan.

A new draft of the plan that removed support for renewable energy projects was prepared after the PSC had issued its decision to approve the Highland project.

The Forest Town Board argues that the PSC should use the new draft of the land use plan and should consider it as “the discovery of new evidence.”

“A new draft land use plan prepared after issuance (of the final approval of the Highland project) does not constitute newly-discovered evidence sufficient to rehear or reopen this proceeding. An administrative proceeding would never have finality if a proceeding could be reopened because of this,” according to the PSC’s December 20 opinion.

Preserving Rural Values, Inc. has filed a notice of claim with the Town of Forest alleging that the town board violated state law in amending Forest’s comprehensive Smart Growth plan and is seeking damages that could total more than $100,000.

Public interest

The Forest Town Board’s final argument is that the PSC made a material error in finding that the CPCN for Highland Wind Farm would not be against the public interest.

“The record in this proceeding is replete with evidence supporting the Commission’s determination that the project is in the public interest,” according to the PSC’s opinion.

The opinion concludes that Forest does not satisfy the requirements of Wisconsin Statute 227.49(3) to require a reopening of the application or a rehearing, and that the PSC will not reopen the proceeding under Wisconsin Statute 196.39(1).