The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin on Aug. 11 issued a re-approval of the 102.5-MW Highland Wind Farm LLC, with the new decision taking into account two issues that a state court had remanded back to the commission.
Highland Wind Farm had gotten a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) to construct a 102.5-MW wind facility to be located in the towns of Forest and Cylon, St. Croix County, Wisconsin. But project opponents won a court decision in the case, Town of Forest v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of Wis., decided in the St. Croix County Circuit Court.
This project has a lengthy procedural history. In December 2011,Highland filed an application with the commission for a CPCN to construct the project. In March 2013, the commission denied the application. The commission concluded that the sound modeling information submitted in the docket indicated that there were multiple non-participating residences where Highland had failed to demonstrate compliance with a state-mandated nighttime noise limit of 45 A-weighted decibels (dBA) using the most conservative modeling inputs.
In April 2013, Highland filed a petition to reopen, or in the alternative, for rehearing. The commission reopened the proceeding for the limited purpose of determining if the project could comply with the noise standards. In the reopened proceeding, Highland submitted sound modeling and a proposed curtailment plan, specific to the two turbine models under consideration, under which turbine operation would be curtailed under certain conditions to ensure sound levels at non-participating residences would not exceed the sound limits.
After further contested case hearings, the commission issued a final decision on reopening, granting a CPCN because the commission found that the sound modeling under the proposed curtailment plan demonstrated that the project would meet applicable noise limits,
In January 2014, the Town of Forest, which was an intervenor in both the initial and reopened proceedings, requested judicial review of the commission’s rinal decision on reopening. The town challenged the commission’s determination that the project, using the curtailment plan, would be in compliance with the noise limits. The request for judicial review also challenged, among other things, two conditions of the final decision on reopening in which the commission set a 95% pre-established compliance standard, and accepted an agreement by Highland to provide a lower nighttime noise limit of 40 dBA to six non-participating residences described as “sensitive.”
In August 2015, the circuit court judge for St. Croix County, Edward F. Vlack, issued a decision and order affirming in part and remanding in part the commission’s final decision on reopening. He affirmed the commission’s determination that the project using the curtailment plan would comply with the noise limits iand that the project would not unreasonably interfere with the orderly land use and development plans for the area, but remanded two specific issues to the commission for further consideration. They were: the adoption of the pre-established 95% compliance standard; and the acceptance of Highland’s agreement to limit to 40 dBA the nighttime noise from the project at the six residences identified as occupied by potentially “sensitive” individuals.
On March 15, 2016, the commission reopened the docket for the limited purpose of addressing the two issues remanded by the circuit court. The commission has removed those two provisions from the approval.
The commission, taking note of two wind turbine reports issued after its original project approval, wrote in the Aug. 11 decision: “The Commission took official notice of two reports addressing wind turbine noise and health effects and provided the parties a reasonable opportunity to rebut the studies reviewed by the reports or present countervailing evidence. The Commission has reviewed the evidence received and has determined that the additional evidence supports the Commission’s prior conclusion that there is not substantial evidence supporting a causal link between audible or inaudible noise at wind generating facilities and human health risks. As there is not substantial evidence for requiring a lower noise limit for any of the already identified residences, there is no need to hold a contested case to determine ‘which have health conditions warranting protections.'”