WisBusiness: Opposition grows toward energy proposals in SW Wisconsin

By Gregg Hoffmann

The movement to make southwest Wisconsin a hot spot for alternative energy has met some opposition in recent weeks.

Century Foods International filed a lawsuit March 20 in Monroe County Circuit Court in an attempt to block construction of a proposed ethanol plant next to Century Foods’ largest Sparta processing facility.

Opponents also raised their voices at a recent meeting to a proposed wind farm in Monroe County.

The Century lawsuit alleges the Sparta’s annexation, rezoning and issuance of a conditional-use permit for the ethanol plant should be declared null and void because of violations of state law and city ordinances in the processes by which they were adopted.

The lawsuit also alleges the conditional-use permit is null and void because it was issued contrary to Sparta ordinances, such as one that prohibits the use of land in any manner that adversely affects the surrounding area, and another that prohibits emission of odorous gases that are readily detectable beyond the property lot lines.

Century is the largest employer in Sparta with 310 employees. Sparta City Administrator Ken Witt said he is not concerned about the lawsuit and that everything was done legally to issue permits for the ethanol plant, which received enthusiastic public support in its early stages.

In recent weeks, more public concern has been expressed about the impact on air quality and the risk of explosions from the plant.

David Rundahl of Coulee Area Renewable Energy LLC (CARE) has not commented on the lawsuit. CARE hoped to start work on the plant in May.

The opposition to the wind farm proposal in Monroe County has centered primarily on noise from the windmills that generate the electricity.

Meanwhile, both the City of Westby and Town of Christiana in Vernon County have been approached by EcoEnergy, a company based in Illinois, and John Deere Financial about establishing wind farms.

David Eggen, chairman of the Christiana town board, said EcoEnergy, which is a part of the Morse company, has talked about placing up to 40 windmills in the town. Eggen said the two-megawatt windmills cost $3 million each. Land owners are paid $4,000 to $6,000 in rent each year to have a tower on their property, Eggen said.

A biodiesel plant also has been proposed for the Cashton Greens business park near Cashton. A wind farm with about 20 windmills has been operating near Dodgeville for several years. Several other proposals for alternative energy production have been discussed in various communities in the southwest portion of the state.