Solar? WI Regulators Punt

February 26th, 2019


Carol A. Overland: Big solar projects need guidance, but regulators punt

Bill Berry’s recent op/ed column said it clearly — the Public Service Commission and solar industry need guidance for siting solar projects. Wisconsin has none. There’s specific wind-siting guidance, but none for solar.

How would “guidance” happen? Typically, that’s “rulemaking,” which can occur by legislative mandate, on the commission’s initiative, or by citizen petition.

Without “guidance,” projects are sited willy-nilly, without regard for setbacks from properties and homes, impacts on agriculture and “exclusive agriculture” land, community purpose and character. When a project moves into an established community, it’s a set-up for a “nuisance” that interferes with another’s use of their property, interferes with their lives.

Jewell Jinkins Intervenors, landowners who are intervening in the Badger Hollow solar project dockets, filed a petition for rulemaking for solar rules and environmental update, and were joined by landowners in Jefferson County. In filing this petition, we were hoping to head off largely irreversible siting problems. Once it’s built, if problems occur, then what?

However, the PSC declared that “rulemaking is not necessary at this time.” Isn’t any other time too late? The commission chose to abdicate its power and claims a legislative mandate is needed for rulemaking. The commission said an update of environmental rules wasn’t necessary, although “solar” doesn’t require any environmental review. A solar project with a lifespan of 30-50 years, with a PSC staff-admitted “dramatic” impact of industrial infrastructure covering prime ag land, doesn’t require environmental review! The commission claims there’s “flexibility in order to ensure that large-scale solar projects get an appropriate level of environmental review.” That didn’t occur for Badger Hollow.

Work within the system? Sure, we’re trying, but with as dysfunctional and absent a regulatory system as this, well — how’s that working for us?

Carol A. Overland, attorney for Jewell Jinkins Intervenors, of Iowa County, WI

Red Wing, Minnesota

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