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Our View: County wind power debate entering fifth year

A legal, and neighbor-against-neighbor, battle in northeastern St. Croix County continues as the pros and cons of wind-generated power are debated. The issue has already been brewing for four years and it may not be settled anytime soon as we enter the fifth year of the controversy.

Talk to anyone and they will, in general terms, talk about wind power as a good, efficient and cheap energy source for the times -- that's the easy part.

But then, try finding a location to construct wind generators and suddenly you've got yourself a first-class controversy, complete with arguments among neighbors, recalls and lawsuits.

Such is the case in St. Croix County in the town of Forest.

As the debate continues, we are starting to see new terms in the discussions of wind energy. Terms such as "shadow flicker" and "turbine noise levels" are things that no one thought much about in the past.

The latest developments in the Forest project find that the company attempting to build the turbines, Highland Wind Farm LCC, increased the size of the project from 97 to 102.5 megawatts. The Highland Wind Farm project has been a controversy in the town of Forest since the town board approved a wind development agreement with the wind farm developer, Emerging Energies of Wisconsin, in 2008. In 2010 the town board was recalled and replaced by turbine opponents. They had made things difficult for the proposal with various town regulations and citizen lawsuits. The 102.5 megawatt proposal is significant because it makes the plan subject to state approval instead of town approval. The cutoff is 100 megawatts.

A bit of history finds that the original project in Forest called for 39 wind towers. Each tower stands about 500 feet tall. Many landowners in the town had signed leases with the wind firm, but were prohibited from discussing the project. When the rest of the town's residents got "wind" of the deals, the uprising began. Battles erupted over setbacks, noise, quality of life, health, property value, safety, "shadow flicker" and more.

With the latest proposal now involving the state, the clock began ticking last week on state regulators to review the application to construct the larger 102.5 mega-watt wind energy farm in the towns of Forest and Cylon. By statute, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission has 30 days to determine if the application submitted by Highland Wind Farm LCC is complete, and if so, then six months to approve or deny it. If necessary, a circuit court can grant the PSC a six-month extension. The town's role in the decision is now uncertain.

The bottom line is, when wind towers begin popping up in either populated areas, or rural countryside, there is likely to be plenty of opposition. A group of wind towers doesn't do much for the scenic value of any topography.

Despite all the virtues of wind power, developing a power source to a degree where it would have a significant impact could be difficult when facing "not in my backyard" neighborhoods.