Wind farm too small for fight, firm says
Challenging Addison permit in courts is not worth expense
By DON BEHM
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Addison - A Florida corporation walked away from its
plan to build a wind farm in Addison rather than mounting
a costly legal challenge of town restrictions on the project,
company representatives said Wednesday.
FPL Energy decided the relatively small project was not
worth the additional investment needed to carry the lawsuit
and likely appeals through the courts.
"It was a business decision," spokeswoman Carol
Clawson said. "It was a very small project in the
scope of projects that we do, and it just wasn't viable.
There was no point in fighting any further."
Though the company's proposal to erect 28 towers on high
hills east of U.S. Highway 41 would have been the largest
number of turbines at a single wind farm in Wisconsin,
it would have been a minor project in FPL Energy's portfolio.
FPL Energy last year erected the two largest projects
ever built in the United States, a 278-megawatt wind farm
at King Mountain near Odessa, Texas, and a 261-megawatt
wind farm on the border of Oregon and Washington.
The generating capacity of the proposed Addison wind
farm, by contrast, was 25.2 megawatts, even less than
the 30 megawatts of electrical power coming from FPL's
Montfort wind farm along U.S. Highway 18 in Iowa County.
After the proposal spurred two years of bitter confrontations
at public meetings and enough turmoil to shut down the
town government twice last year, most residents in the
town expected a lengthy legal battle over a conditional
use permit needed for the project, according to Town Clerk
Town Attorney Stan Riffle even warned Plan Commission
members earlier this month that the town would have to
defend a proposed permit in court if FPL Energy thought
that permit conditions substantially increased project
costs or decreased its efficiency.
On Tuesday, FPL Energy said that the Plan Commission's
proposed 1,000-foot-wide safety zone around each wind
turbine tower would have cut the number from 28 to seven
"This restriction drastically affects the cost and
efficiency of the project, to the point of making it uneconomical,"
project manager Dave Herrick said in a written statement.
A 1993 state energy law limits a municipality's authority
to restrict such projects. Local restrictions are permitted
only if they protect public health or safety, do not increase
the cost or decrease the efficiency of the system, or
allow for an alternative system of comparable cost and
efficiency, a state appeals court ruled in March 2001.
Instead of the widely anticipated announcement of a lawsuit,
however, the town Tuesday received FPL Energy's surprise
notice of its withdrawal from the scene.
Most visitors to the Town Hall on Tuesday afternoon questioned
why FPL Energy backed off rather than continuing to fight
for a permit, Wolf said.
FPL cut its losses
A more complete answer came Wednesday in interviews with
Clawson and attorneys representing the company and a group
of residents who had signed leases allowing FPL Energy
to build its facilities on their properties.
FPL Energy chose to cut its losses at Addison now rather
than invest in the court fight because the project also
faced an uncertain future for several other reasons, according
to Jim Tynion, a Milwaukee attorney representing FPL Energy.
Costs of buying turbines and constructing the facility
have steadily climbed since the company made its final
application for a town permit in October 2000, Tynion
said. Major state utilities have now purchased the amount
of electricity from wind and other renewable sources that
they needed to comply with a state mandate. Additional
mandatory purchases of renewable energy are a few years
off, and contract prices at that time might not be as
favorable as they had been, he said. Congress did not
act last year to reauthorize federal production tax credits
for wind energy. Those tax credits boosted the income
of energy producers. The industry expects Congress to
renew the program, but the timetable is not known.
"FPL decided to use its resources elsewhere,"
Tynion said. On Friday, the corporation will close its
office on Main St. in Allenton, an unincorporated community
in the town.
Ed Ritger, a Random Lake attorney representing his mother,
Rose, and the owners of 15 other properties leased to
FPL Energy, said the corporation had been watching the
cost per turbine to develop the project. Prolonged legal
challenges can be very expensive, and at this point the
company signaled that the project was no longer a good
investment, he said.
Another reason might have been its public image, Ritger
"A lot of corporations don't like to do development
by carrying a big legal stick," he said. "That
is not good public relations, and that is not the image
that FPL Energy wants to cultivate around the country."
But one critic of the FPL proposal predicted the long
fight that occurred in Addison wouldn't be the last of
its kind in the state.
"As long as state agencies are standing shoulder
to shoulder with corporations that want to take advantage
of Wisconsin's natural resources, residents of Addison
and residents around the state will not rest easy,"
said Cathy Lawton of Barton, a member of the Town of Addison
"If it can happen in Addison, it can happen anywhere."