The concerns, which range from plummeting property values to the welfare of bats and birds, have proven sufficient to land some wind farm proposals in court and some regional programs in limbo.
But the winds shifted last week in the Midwest, and now appear to be at the backs of enterprises seeking to develop wind farms in Wisconsin. They also appear to have cleared clouds threatening to douse a planned 50-plus turbine farm in Champaign County, Ohio.
Neither decision is decisive, given the deep divides between supporters and opponents of wind farms, but both have given regional wind initiatives a needed lift at a time when some had begun to doubt that wind energy would gain the traction that Midwest environmentalists and entrepreneurs once promised.
In Wisconsin, Senate Republicans failed last week to garner the votes required to rescind a wind siting rule crafted by the state's Public Service Commission in 2010. After taking control of the Legislature in 2011, GOP lawmakers temporarily suspended the rule, contending it allowed developers to build turbines too close to neighboring properties. Without a single unifying rule, developers rolled up their blueprints and departed the state.
Republicans have until tomorrow, when the legislative session ends, to revoke the rule. It probably won't happen. As Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) noted last week, the wind industry deserves clarity after being buffeted by turbulent policy-making in recent years.
Schultz also knows wind farms will bring jobs to Wisconsin, where construction employment lags other states in the region.
The Ohio decision concerns a 9,000-care site in a largely rural community, where landowners expressed concern about safety risks associated with the planned wind farm, as well as the potential for turbines to diminish their property values. Although the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) approved the project, landowners appealed the decision, contending that the 541-ft setback from the turbines to their homes was insufficient. They also contended errors occurred during the approval process. On March 6, the Ohio State Supreme Court upheld the OPSB decision, paving the way for Buckeye Wind LLC to proceed with the project. In the majority decision, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote that OBSB “followed statuatory requirements” in establishing conditions for the project.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton indicated that OPSB should have conducted a hearing to address unresolved safety and environmental issues, notably whether a distance of 541 feet between turbines and neighboring property was sufficient to protect neighbors in the event a 170-ft-long turbine blade broke loose and went flying through the air.
These are tough calls, which is why the matter is far from settled in the region.
In Greentown, Ind., the Eastern Howard School Corp. appears to have scrapped plans to build a wind turbine to reduce district energy costs.
Earlier this month, board members indicated they would abandon the project if opponents could gather 100 valid signatures by March 12. Opponents gathered nearly 250 signatures.
Yesterday, Superintendent Tracy Caddell sounded the death knell. “There is no intent at this point to move forward with the project,” he said.