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PSC rules that wind project doesn't require EIS

Developers of the proposed Highland Wind Farm in the Town of Forest will not be required to complete an environmental impact statement.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin issued a decision on the possible EIS requirement on July 25.

While the five-page document outlines several potential impacts that the wind farm project could have on landowners and the surrounding landscape, its conclusion is that there is "no significant impact" expected from the proposal.

Forcing an EIS typically slows down the approval process for such projects. With last week's decision, final approval of the 41-turbine wind farm might come in the next few months.

Jay Mundinger, founding principal of the Highland Wind Farm project, said he was very pleased with the news.

Highland developers have worked with expert consultants to design and install the project in such a way that it would have little or no impact on the community, Mundinger said. He said the PSC apparently recognized that is the case as well.

"We've worked hard to protect the environment," he said.

The PSC's preliminary environmental assessment acknowledged that the large turbines would "affect the visual character" of the township. There may also be some increase in "ambient noise" near the turbines and "shadow flicker" (the blinking created on homes as the sun is blocked by the twirling blades) when the project is installed, the report concedes. There would also likely be some bird and bat losses as a result of the turning turbines, the report states.

But taking everything into consideration, the report's author, Environmental Planning Analyst Kathy Zuelsdorff, concluded that the impacts are "typical of modern wind projects" and "would not result in significant environmental effects on the human environment."

According to Brenda Salseg, spokesperson for The Forest Voice, a landowner group fighting against the wind energy project, those opposed to the plan were disappointed with last week's news. Opponents of the project claim that turbines too close to homes can have a negative impact on the health of homeowners. The project likely would negatively impact property values and rural atmosphere found in the Town of Forest, she noted.

"To me, it says on one hand there will be impacts," she said. "Then at the end it says no significant impacts."

Salseg said her group was also disappointed with the PSC's July 19 decision to deny "intervenor" funding to aid the citizen group in its efforts to stop Highland Wind Farm. The PSC sometimes provides public funding to support groups engaged in the project approval process which gives them a fair opportunity to effectively share their side of the story.

"We are very angry about this decision," Salseg said. "It appears that the Public Service Commission may have already made up its mind about this project and does not want to hear from the very citizens who will be impacted most directly. We think that is an outrage. We call on the PSC to reverse its decision."

Salseg charged that the PSC's decision is a clear indication that the state is "pro-wind" and doesn't want to hear the other side of the story.

"There is too much evidence from around the world that it is dangerous and unhealthy to live close to wind generators," she said. "In many places tower setbacks are one-half mile or more from occupied residents, but in Wisconsin the standard is only 1,250 feet. That is too close, and we believe it will make some people sick and force them to abandon their homes, as has happened to some families in Brown, Kewanee and Dodge counties."

Salseg said turbines don't belong in areas too close to homes and should be relegated to undeveloped rural areas.

Emerging Energies LLC, of Hubertus is seeking approval for 41 to 44 wind turbines with a total capacity of 102 megawatts of power. The power would be sold to Xcel Energy via a proposed substation in the Town of Cylon.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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