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By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF FOREST — Leeward Renewable Energy, based out of Dallas, Texas, has sent a letter dated November 12 to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, saying that the Highland Wind Farm project has been cancelled.
The proposed 102.5 megawatt project in the Town of Forest would have had 41 wind turbines.
Emerging Energies began developing the proposal for Highland Wind Farm in 2008, and some years later, sold the proposal to Leeward Renewable Energy.
Emerging Energies/Highland Wind Farm initially planned to have 39 wind turbines in the Town of Forest, which meant the project would have been under local town board control.
After the Forest Town Board took an adversarial position about the project, Emerging Energies boosted the project to 41 wind turbines, which changed control to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.
According to the letter to the Wisconsin PSC from Leeward, written by John Wycherley, vice president of development, regarding the wind electric generation facility and associated electric facilities to be located in the Towns of Forest and Cylon, “This letter is to inform the Commission that Leeward has canceled the Highland Wind Farm project associated with the CPCN [Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity] granted in Docket No. 2535-CE-100 … To date, Leeward has not undertaken any construction activity related to the Highland Wind Farm project. Accordingly, Leeward respectfully requests that the Commission acknowledges that, to the extent the CPCN is still valid, Leeward is relinquishing any right, and is released from any obligations, associated with the CPCN. In addition, Leeward is requesting that the Commission close Docket No. 2535-CE-100.”
“We are relieved and gratified that the Highland Wind Farm project has been stopped, once and for all. We thank the leadership of Leeward for dong the right thing for our community, but also for the environment,” said Jaime Junker, chair of the Forest Town Board.
“Although I am only one board member and it is not practical for the town board to make a formal statement as a board without a board meeting, in time the board will have a chance to put perspective to its and the residents of Forest more than ten-year opposition of the Highland Wind Farm,” he said.
According to background information Junker provided to the Tribune Press Reporter, in January of this year, the Forest Town Board unanimously approved asking Leeward Energy to cancel the Highland Wind Farm project and then sent personally-addressed letters to each member of the company’s board of directors.
On March 16, the Forest Town Board voted unanimously “to release the letter to the public,” according to the information Junker provided.
It should be noted, as per Wisconsin’s Open Records Law, since the town board approved sending the letter, and the town board subsequently sent the letter, the letter was public information and subject to an open records request from any member of the public prior to the town board “releasing” the letter to the public.
According to the background information, the letter the Forest Town Board sent to Leeward states, “Our town board believes that the Highland Wind Farm project is inconsistent with your corporate values stated on your website. Our town board believes that this will be a devastating project where people will be forced to leave their homes if the turbines ever start operating, similar to the Shirley wind project’s disastrous record in Glenmore, Wisconsin.”
Three families left their homes near the Shirley wind farm because they believed the wind farm was responsible for their illnesses, according to the background information.
During a Forest Town Board meeting in October of 2010, representatives for Emerging Energies said that over the life of the wind turbines, the project would result in direct local payments of $15.6 million, including $6.8 million to St. Croix County, $4.9 million to the Town of Forest, and $3.9 million to landowners living within a half mile of any turbine.
According to the Renew Wisconsin website, owners of wind farms larger than 50 megawatts pay into a utility fund annually, and the money is shared with local governments where the wind farm is located. Under the revenue-sharing formula, a 100 megawatt wind farm would contribute $400,000 per year to host townships and counties, which in the case of the 102.5 megawatt Highland Wind Farm project, would have been annual payments to the Town of Forest and St. Croix County.
Residents in the Town of Forest who objected to the Emerging Energies/Highland Wind Farm project said they were concerned about their health, safety and welfare and were worried that the wind turbines would exacerbate existing health problems or create new health problems. They also were concerned that the wind farm would harm their property values.
There are 10 wind projects in Wisconsin generating electricity for utility use, and all together, the projects have 437 wind turbines and total 737 megawatts, according to Renew Wisconsin.
The Forest Town Board has spent more than $500,000 opposing the Highland Wind Farm project, according to the background information Junker provided, and “always the town board was following the support and lead of its residents’ opposition to the project.”
At the Town of Forest budget meeting nine years ago in November of 2012, the town board had already spent $200,000 on legal fees and expert witnesses.
The town’s highway budget for 2012 was just shy of $250,000, and the town’s property tax levy was $229,889
In 2019, the Forest Town Board approved creating www.forestwindtruth.org and hired Laura Gallagher, owner of a public relations firm out of Madison, to tell the stories of the families who left their homes near the Shirley wind farm, according to the background information.
“Currently, the town is waiting for the PSC to take action on Leeward’s recent letter before addressing this as a board in a formal meeting. We are very hopeful and taking the posted letter at the PSC for its face value, but this has been such a long process that we want to be sure the application has closure,” according to the background information.
According to the Leeward Renewable Energy website, the company’s 22 renewable energy wind and solar facilities have produced nearly 68 million megawatt hours of renewable energy since 2003, which powers the equivalent of more than a half a million homes, and has avoided nearly 66 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Leeward currently has 17 gigawatts of wind, solar and battery storage projects under development in over 100 projects, according to the company’s website.
The company has facilities in nine states, including on the east coast, the west coast, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma as well as in Illinois.