GADSDEN, Alabama – A Texas-based green energy company is planning two windmill farms for Etowah and Cherokee counties, which would be the first of their kind for the state.
Construction could begin as early as this fall to take advantage of federal tax breaks, said Andy Bowman, president of Pioneer Green Energy, a firm responsible for developing 17 windmill projects in Texas, New York and Pennsylvania.
For Etowah County, the company is planning a string of windmills about seven miles northeast of Gadsden, with the farm costing about $120 million. It would generate an estimated 80 megawatts of power. Patrick Buckley, Pioneer’s development manager, said the “Noccalula” project, as it would be called, would provide enough power for 24,000 homes.
“This is a unique opportunity to bring new industry home to Alabama, and generate clean energy right in our own backyard,” Buckley said.
The turbines would be between 267 to 330 feet tall, have three blades and be spread about 1/4 to 1/5th of a mile apart. FAA regulations require a blinking light at the silo’s tip, but not on all of them. The turbines would probably be visible from U.S. 411 but would be about 2,000 feet from the nearest residence, Buckley said. For the Etowah County project, the company could build between 25 to 40 turbines.
The project would generate about 19 to 30 permanent jobs and as much as $1.14 million in tax revenue to the county, according to a Jacksonville State University economic study.
The Cherokee County farm, called the Shinbone project, would be smaller and generate about 20 megawatts.
Buckley said the company has been eying the area for about 10 years, and has collected four years worth of data on how much electricity could be generated from available wind. Pioneer is currently working on environmental impact studies and in discussions with utilities. The Shinbone project is part of an agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority, Buckley said.
Wind projects are prominent in California, Texas, and the Midwest, but the South has largely been undeveloped, except for projects in Tennessee and North Carolina, Buckley said. One reason has been the lack of wind generation potential. However, advances in technology and experience in wind generation projects from Europe have made the area feasible, Bowman said.
About 20 residents turned out at an informal information meeting today at Etowah County Courthouse. Most of them live in property near the proposed site, and had questions about whether the windmills would be seen from their property and the noise factor.
Buckley said the 2,000 feet distance to the nearest residence is 500 feet better than the industry standard, and residents might hear a noise similar to a refrigerator or drier.
One resident said she was “not all that excited about it,” but Bowman said the company planned an open house within the next few months to let residents see simulations of what the farm would look like.
Steve Shaneyfelt, who owns part of the property slated for the development, said one condition he had of being involved in the project was that residents be informed regularly.
“We plan on being good neighbors,” he said.
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