CENTRE, Alabama – Chris and Leslie Lipscomb filed out of the Cherokee County Administrative Building as county officials locked the doors, more than an hour after tonight’s county commission meeting ended. But the couple was still talking about a proposed windmill farm for the area on the sidewalk outside, and they want more attention paid to what could come from it.
The Lipscombs were among more than 75 who turned out in Centre for the commission meeting, even though the topic wasn’t up for a vote. The couple peppered a representative of Pioneer Green Energy with questions after the meeting, along with other attendees.
Pioneer Green is the Texas green energy firm planning windmill turbines for Cherokee County, along with a larger windmill farm in Etowah County. The questions from residents were firm, but respectful.
The Lipscombs don’t want the windmills, they said, for many reasons. In 2006, the couple bought undeveloped land in Owl’s Hollow at the foot of the mountain where they understand the turbines would be built.
“We took a piece of virgin ground and created a farm,” Chris said. “We’re pretty firm in our opposition.”
Even though they haven’t been built yet, the windmills, which would be the first proposed for the state of Alabama, are already generating – opposition among landowners and local officials. The crowd the Lipscombs were part of was organized by Save Cherokee Rock Village, a group that has used Facebook to marshal dissent.
Leesburg Mayor Edward Mackey addressed the commission before it voted on a few routine business items.
“There are just too many red flags with this,” Mackey said of the project. “Why should we have them here in the first place?”
His short address drew applause from the crowd, several of them standing in the back of the room with the crowd spilling out into the hallway. But when the commission meeting ended, many people were still standing around, comparing notes and making connections for the future.
Jona Duncan came from Gadsden, as did others. Pioneer Green plans to host two community open house meetings April 13 – one in Gadsden, one in Centre – to try to answer residents’ questions. Duncan said she is an environmentalist who believes in green energy. But she is opposed to the turbines, which she says will spoil the natural beauty of the ridge, where she enjoys camping and hiking.
“I want to do what’s right because of climate change,” she said. “But the more I look at the data, the more concerns I have about this. I don’t think the potential cost (to the environment) is worth the amount of energy generated.”
The company plans about eight turbines, which 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, company officials say. For the Etowah County project, the company could build between 25 to 40 turbines.
Kenneth Henry lives on County Road 1. He says he plans on building a new home facing the mountain where the turbines are planned for construction. But he wants the view to remain the way it is, and isn’t looking forward to strobe lights on his bedroom windows, or noise from the turbines resounding down the valley.
“There’s a test station up there now that I can see,” he said. “I’m 100 percent opposed to it.”
Owen Money, a high school student, said he was against the project because of the noise factor. Company officials say the noise produced by the turbines will not be heard further than about 1,500 feet away.
But Money said he saw a windmill farm while traveling in California and believes the sound would carry much farther.
“It would be like a ticking clock, only louder,” he said.
Other residents came armed with information they got from Internet research. Others mentioned the effect the turbines would have on eagles, hawks and other wildlife. Still others mentioned the area’s connection to the Cherokee Indians, calling it sacred ground.
Not everyone was opposed. One man spoke up for the project, saying he was proud that Cherokee County would be among the first counties in the state to generate wind power. But he said he does not own land near the turbines.
Commission Chairman Kirk Day said he believes the commission will wait until after the open house before voting on anything. Pioneer Green’s original proposal included a turbine near Cherokee Rock Village, a popular rock outcropping that served as a backdrop for scenes in the movie “Failure to Launch.” But that proposal is dead after opposition, he said.
Now the commission is wrestling with whether to allow transmission lines from the turbines over county rights-of-way.
“We want to hear everybody’s opinion,” Day said. “We’re just taking some more time to look at it.”
One reason Cherokee County is being eyed for the project, besides the wind the company hopes to harness for power, is its connection with the Tennessee Valley Authority. But Day said Etowah County is a “different ballgame,” since it is part of Alabama Power’s territory.
Opponents are hoping to connect with more residents over time, and couples like the Lipscombs believe more people would have turned out against the project if they had known. Others like Mackey say there is still time to prevent the project from happening.
“Some people think there’s nothing we can do, but it’s not a done deal,” he said.
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