FOREST, Wis., Oct. 28, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- With no signs of movement from a Texas-based energy company, officials in the town of Forest in northwest Wisconsin now doubt whether a proposed $250 million wind farm will go forward.
Leeward Renewable Energy of Dallas has been pursuing a project to erect 44 wind turbines near existing rural homes in St. Croix County despite ongoing opposition from residents over noise and health concerns. The project has been in the works for years but progress has apparently come to a halt, according to a statement released by the Forest Town Board.
"We haven't heard anything from Leeward in months and the feeling here in the town is that they have moved on," said Jaime Junker, Town Chairman, following an Oct. 8 meeting of the town board where it passed a resolution claiming victory in the long fight against the wind farm.
The town's position is based on a ruling from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission that the project must comply with state noise standards 100 percent of the time it operates. This change came following a lawsuit from the town challenging the PSC's initial order that had arbitrarily set a 95 percent noise compliance standard.
"This hard-fought concession from the PSC changing the final order has made the project, in our opinion, likely unbuildable," said Jaime.
The Highland Wind Farm – which would put 400-foot-tall wind turbines across predominantly agricultural land with many homes interspersed among the turbines, in the towns of Forest and Cylon -- was first proposed in 2011 by another developer and then sold to Leeward in 2017. It has faced a lengthy legal battle with opponents who claim the project will lead to health problems from the noise and flicker of the turning blades, citing problems at the much smaller Shirley Wind Farm in Brown County.
The Shirley Wind Farm has faced ongoing noise complaints and officials in the town of Forest think the new PSC language requiring the Highland Wind Farm developer to "address any complaints concerning alleged non-compliance with noise standards, based on the specific factual situation at the time any noncompliance is alleged" makes the project economically unfeasible.
The PSC had initially rejected the Highland project in 2013 after finding it would exceed nighttime noise limits. But the application was reopened after the developer proposed slowing the speed of turbines near affected residences. The agency then ruled that a curtailment plan would reduce nighttime noise 95 percent or more of the time and approved the application.
The town appealed that decision, setting off a long legal battle that has continued into this year.
The town of Forest resolution approved Oct. 8 states that because of the "hard-fought and significant monetary investment" it made in litigation to protect its residents under rights related to the state's public health and safety laws, the town obtained a modification in the application from the PSC. The resolution adds that "the PSC should have stuck with its initial vote against the project based on Highland's lack of public outreach that is documented in the PSC case management system."