In a major setback for Badger State wind power development, a joint committee of the Wisconsin state legislature voted today to roll back wind farm siting rules developed in a multi-stakeholder process, immediately threatening all future wind power development as well as job growth-and potentially hanging a "closed for business" sign on the state's potential storefront of economic development from the industry.
In a highly unusual and drastic move, the 10-member Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) suspended the Wisconsin Wind Siting Rules, known as PSC128, on the same day they were set to take effect, despite the fact that the rules had been developed by consensus over the course of two years in an open, balanced and collaborative process.
Numerous organizations and hundreds of major stakeholders, including business representatives and landowners, contributed to the development of the PSC128 rules, which created a level playing field for developing the state's rich wind resources, while still protecting the health and safety of its citizens and neighbors.
The Wisconsin wind siting bill passed the state legislature with strong bipartisan support in 2009, and the rules were finalized by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin in December 2010.
The PSC128 rules that were set to take effect today in Wisconsin already would have been among the most restrictive and detailed rules in the entire country on siting wind turbines. Nevertheless, the action today by the JCRAR, discards two years' worth of work by the industry and a range of stakeholders, plays favorites, and instead rewards and favors special interests.
"We are deeply disappointed with this vote in the Wisconsin legislative committee," noted AWEA CEO Denise Bode. "The wind power industry has already created over 2,000 direct and indirect jobs in Wisconsin, and further growth expected in both project development and wind turbine manufacturing shows we could create a lot more. The action today in Madison indicates that the state is favoring the support of a few special interests over Wisconsin's call for economic development and America's need for more affordable, homegrown energy that can help accelerate the long process of weaning the country from foreign oil."
At a time when unrest in the Middle East is increasing gasoline prices-now topping $4 per gallon in some areas of the country-stable and predictable wind siting requirements will provide the certainty needed in the wind industry to move forward. Instead, today's suspension of the rules will cause a lapse in the state's clean-energy development while jeopardizing over 2 million hours of construction jobs and $1.8 billion of new investment from proposed projects, many of which will not be able to go forward. While a few projects may move forward in the near future, particularly ones that have already been permitted, the wind power industry will all but be brought to a halt in Wisconsin, industry experts said.
"It is inconceivable that the siting rules would be suspended on the very day they were scheduled to take effect," said AWEA Director of Business Development Jeff Anthony, who is also a Wisconsin resident.
"These rules were developed collaboratively by the wind energy industry and all major stakeholders in Wisconsin, based on input from six public hearings and two years of information gathering, to protect the interests of all involved parties. This vote today represents an unfortunate turn of events based on politics and a blatant disregard for not only the facts, gleaned from real-world experience of siting wind farms across the rest of the country, but also the necessity for a more diversified electric-generating portfolio. Wisconsin has taken a giant step backward."
AWEA remains committed to the wind energy industry in Wisconsin, and will work with the legislature to remedy this situation as quickly as possible, in order to restore the promise of economic growth that wind power projects and component manufacturing have already begun in the state.
Meanwhile, "By suspending these rules, wind project development will be diverted to other states that have reasonable rules in place," said Anthony. "Jobs that would have been located in Wisconsin are now going to migrate to neighboring states such as Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. These states are clearly 'open for business.' The signal sent today is that Wisconsin is 'closed for business.' If the Walker administration and the state legislature were truly as serious about Wisconsin remaining 'open for business' creating well-paying jobs in Wisconsin, this action today would not have taken place."
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