The seven-member panel, which met late Thursday and into Friday, unanimously agreed to grant FPL Energy of Florida a conditional-use permit, but only if it is loaded with restrictions that include the safety zones, which are aimed at reducing the risk of health problems.
Reaction to FPL Energy's proposal has fueled a divisive debate in this rural community and has disrupted town government.
Examples of its impact here include the resignations last year of the town chairman and a supervisor within a few months of their election, the subsequent resignation of another supervisor facing a recall election, resignations last year of two town attorneys and the dismissal of another, and the paralysis of town government twice last summer when there was no longer a quorum, or majority, of supervisors available to meet.
Now, a legal challenge appears all but certain if the commission does not back down from its preliminary decision to prohibit turbines within 1,000 feet of any residence, road right of way, or the property boundary of a neighbor who is not providing land for any project facilities.
A draft permit is to be prepared by Town Attorney Stan Riffle, and the public can submit written comments to the town on its provisions until Jan. 28.
The Plan Commission could decide on a final permit on Jan. 31.
FPL Energy had proposed a 650-foot safety circle in its permit application.
No other wind farm in the state faces mandatory 1,000-foot setbacks from its turbines, said Jim Tynion, a Milwaukee attorney representing FPL Energy.
"This will cut the number of turbines by more than half, and it could make the project uneconomical and, therefore, illegal," he said.
Tynion is referring to a 1993 state energy law intended to promote wind energy in Wisconsin.
The law purposefully limits a municipality's authority to restrict such projects, the state Court of Appeals ruled in March 2001 in a case involving two Mequon landowners.
"Local restrictions are permitted only if they serve the public health or safety, do not significantly increase the cost or decrease the efficiency of the system, or allow for an alternative system of comparable cost and efficiency," the court's ruling says.
If the Addison safety zone restriction were to be reduced to 650 feet, FPL Energy would not ask a court to get involved, Tynion said.
Riffle warned commission members that he might have to defend all permit conditions in court.
If the town lost a legal challenge, a judge might impose less restrictive conditions than those imposed by the commission, Riffle said.
In response to Tynion's complaint that 1,000 feet was excessive for a safety zone, Riffle said: "If you folks can't make it work, you folks likely will haul us into court."
Four of seven commission members initially pushed for the full 1,000-foot zone. They are Charles Bode, Ann Schmidt, Cheryl Vogt and Michael Kaczmarek. When Riffle later asked individual commission members whether they would approve a permit containing the set of restrictions discussed at the meeting, all voted in the affirmative.
The 1,000-foot distance would substantially reduce the risk of several possible health effects, according to Bode and other officials.
Those include: noise; throwing of ice from turbine blades in winter; throwing of blade fragments in the unlikely event that one would disintegrate; and shadow flicker, or the strobe effect caused when the slowly spinning blades of a turbine are aligned between a home and the setting or rising sun.