Wind Power: Cutting the Spin - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Wind Power: Cutting the Spin

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Julie Cupery's dairy farm in rural Columbia County is home to six of the 90 industrial wind turbines that make up Glacier Hills, the largest wind energy project in Wisconsin.

"Renewable energy was really high on everybody's list and...have to be honest...the money was good," said Cupery when talking about her family's decision to allow windmills on their property.

WE Energies pays Julie $5,000 per year for each windmill on her land.

Completed in 2011, Glacier Hills was one of nine wind farms to go up in the five years after the state legislature mandated 10 percent of Wisconsin energy must come from renewable resources by 2015.  But that rapid growth may soon come to a screeching halt.

"Its definitely stalling.  I would definitely describe it that way," said Tyson Cook, a staff scientist at Clean Wisconsin, an environmental group which advocates for the continued growth of wind energy as a safe, clean alternative to coal and natural gas.  But the organization's optimism is fading.

"Its a shame that the politicians up at the Capitol have done all this work to really attack the wind industry in Wisconsin," said Cook.

No politician attacks it more than Sen. Frank Lasee (R-Bellevue).  His pitch is an emotional one.
    
"In my district we have three families who moved out of their homes and are paying two mortgages.  We have affidavits from fifteen more who are having ill health effects and can't afford to move," said Lasee.

Those people live near the Shirley Wind Farm.  Several of them came to the Public Service Commission last summer armed with multiple studies concluding that inaudible, low-frequency noise emitted by industrial wind turbines can have a negative impact on human health.

"Shortly after the turbines started up, I was starting to feel unstable, unsteady, I had stomach issues," said David Enz, talking to 27 News in July of 2012.

Hundreds of similar complaints started piling up at the PSC, causing officials there to ultimately ask Clean Wisconsin to commission a study of the issue last December.   Clean Wisconsin contracted four firms to conduct independent studies at the Shirley Wind Farm.

Three concluded that low-frequency noise does exist there, and that further study is needed.  The fourth stated that noise is likely causing people to get sick.

"There's no evidence to point to that," claimed Cook.  "There's certainly no reason to think that would be the case."

Clean Wisconsin takes that position because there are no "peer-reviewed" studies that link inaudible noise levels to human illness.
    
"Their argument is a fallacy," countered Sen. Lasee.  "Their argument just justifies their actions.  Their argument just keeps them getting paid.  And I think they're wrong-headed on this."

Sen. Lasee is now pushing for more regulations on wind energy that could limit its future growth even more.

"What I'd like to do is at the very least, follow the lead of Australia and have a mile and a quarter setback from anybody's property line," said Sen. Lasee.

The current statewide setback standard is 1,250 feet.  Sen. Lasee recently introduced a bill that would allow municipalities to determine their own standards.  He also put forth legislation that would allow people to sue energy companies, if they feel their turbines are making them sick.

"So, if as the wind interests say 'there's no harm done', couple lawsuits will prove that and it'll be done," said Sen. Lasee.

Clean Wisconsin sees the bills as purely political.

"It really is ironic that, immediately after we see this huge effort to reduce citizens input on things like mining, that now we're seeing these bills on other issues where they're really kind of going the other way with them," said Cook.

One person that won't be filing any lawsuits is Julie Cupery.

"Nope, have no issues, health issues," said Cupery.
    
But she does believe she may be part of the last major wind farm in Wisconsin.

"I just figured they were gonna make it impossible to ever set up anymore," said Cupery.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Advocates for wind power and the industry's continued growth in Wisconsin maintain it is a safe, clean alternative to fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.

But complaints have started to pile up with Wisconsin's Public Service Commission from people armed with studies claiming inaudible, low-frequency noise from industrial wind turbines can negatively impact the health of those who live near them.

While wind power proponents and opponents argue over the results of studies on the issue and whether further study is needed, Senator Frank Lasee is pushing for more regulations on wind energy in Wisconsin that could limit the industry's growth in the state. One of his proposals would change state law to allow individual municipalities to determine their own standards for how far turbines should be from homes. The current state law calls for them to be at least 1,250 feet away.

Sen. Lasee has also introduced legislation that would allow people to sue wind energy companies if they feel the turbines are making them sick.

Greg Neumann will take a look at the debate over wind energy and Lasee's proposals, and talk with a woman who took an offer to allow turbines on her property. That's in tonight's special report, "Wind Power: Cutting the Spin", in 27 News at 10.   

 

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