Long-time debate over renewable energy project - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Long-time debate over area renewable energy project adds another chapter

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St. Croix County (WQOW) - A long-time debate over a renewable energy project adds another chapter. On Thursday, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin held a public hearing in the Town of Forest, that's in St. Croix County. Emerging Energies wants to build 41 wind turbines in an area that is home to over 650 residents.

The project was first proposed in 2008 and approved by the town board. However, residents, concerned about the health impacts of the project, filed a lawsuit against the town and recalled all the town board members.  Shortly after, it was discovered the recalled board members had approved permits for the project as one of their last acts.  The agreement was rescinded.

Since then, the company has changed the project; it's grown from 100 megawatts to just over that. Because of the change, an approval must come from the PSC.

If Highland Wind Farm makes its way to Forest, things will be different. The jury is still out on whether the change will be positive...or negative.

"Well there is obviously a financial benefit for those who have accepted a turbine on their site or on their parcel of land," says Emerging Energies Spokesperson, Jay Mundinger.

"There are going to be a number of residents that are going to be adversely affected with their health. All of us stand to lose our property values. For many of us, those are our retirement plans," says Brenda Salseg, a resident of Forest.

On Thursday, the PSC held a public hearing to listen to arguments on both sides of this debate. Each testimony was documented and will be reviewed by the PSC, a decision from the group could come by March. If they vote yes, construction could begin by the end of 2013.

Mundinger says, "In any development there is a process that we try to follow and there's been a few bumps in the road but nothing has come across that it would throw us off the path of the development."

"When you're looking at something that is on a utility scale, on an industrial scale, so closely packed in between homes and farms... there are going to be problems," says Salseg.  

Emerging Energies says the project will bring 8 permanent jobs to the area…But couldn't give any specifics on what the tax benefits would be.

Mundinger says, "We need renewable energy in the state, and Wisconsin is far behind neighboring states, such as Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan. So we're hoping that this installation kind of gets Wisconsin back on the map when it comes to renewable energy."

Citizens at the meeting also had concerns about the health and environmental impact of industrial wind turbines, they say those impacts have yet to be fully understood.

Emerging Energies has already leased 6,2000 acres from property owners for turbine sites, access roads and distribution locations.

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