The Baldwin County Planning and Zoning Commission tabled a request from a wind energy company Thursday for a conditional use permit to erect a meteorological tower.
The tower, which would be 328 feet tall, would have been used by APEX Wind Energy to collect wind data in south Baldwin County for its proposed Foley Wind Project.
The Charlottesville, Va., company is looking to develop a wind farm in the southern part of the county that will consist of about 40 turbines.
APEX Wind’s plan is to put the tower on property that is at the end of Benton Road and on the west side of Magnolia Springs Highway. The property owner, Thomas Damson of Mobile, also has agreed to allow turbines on his property.
The Baldwin County Commission unanimously passed a 180-day moratorium Feb. 19 that prohibits the construction of wind farms and other wind-operated facilities that can produce energy in excess of five kilowatts.
A report authored by the county’s Planning and Zoning Department recommended that the Planning and Zoning Commission table APEX’s request in light of the moratorium. The report indicated that the tower was not prohibited under the moratorium.
The commission will consider the request after the moratorium ends Aug. 19.
Wade Barnes, an APEX Wind development manager, said the county’s decision to put a moratorium is not a surprise.
“That’s a step that we are used to in a county that’s considered a frontier market for wind power,” he said. “We are more than happy to work with the County Commission, the Planning and Zoning Commission to any extent they would desire to facilitate the responsible development of the wind power in the area.”
Barnes said the decision will cause some delay in the data gathering aspect of the project. But he said there is still plenty of other work to do in regard to the project while the moratorium is in place.
The Baldwin County Commission put the moratorium in place after hearing about APEX Wind’s proposed project.
The county has concerns about the project, which includes the size of the turbines, the noise they will generate and if a wind farm will be a danger to migratory birds.
APEX Wind’s project calls for turbines that could be 520 to 590 feet tall from the tower’s base to the tip of a blade at the 12 o’clock position. The height from the tower’s base to the top of the tower will range from 360 to 393 feet, the company said in an email.
Planning board member Dale Martson expressed concerns about the location of the tower and proposed wind farm during a work session before the board’s regular meeting.
He noted that the project would be in an “aesthetically, very prestin part our county no matter if it’s a meteorological tower or wind mill.”
The county has taken the position that wind turbines currently are prohibited in certain parts of the county even though they are not specifically mentioned in the county’s zoning regulations.
“We may be bringing you a zoning amendment – an amendment to the text to the zoning ordinance on this matter very soon,” Planning Director Vince Jackson told the planning board during the work session.
Last year, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved a conditional use request from wind energy company EDP Renewables.
The company asked to erect a tower that would have been 197 feet tall northwest of Hartung Road and east of Norris Lane. The tower was not built, but it was going to be used to measure wind speed and direction.
“At the time of application, staff was unaware that the tower could have eventually led to the construction of wind turbines,” according to a county report.
David Conner, county attorney, said a bill could be introduced during the legislative session giving the County Commission “further authority to regulate,” wind-operated facilities.
Conner said the moratorium gives the county a chance to study wind farms. He said the county is looking at other Alabama counties and places outside the state to see how they have handled wind farms and what impact the farms have had.
Conner said the county will consider if wind farms should be allowed. If the county decides the farms be should allowed, the county will determine under what conditions and restrictions, he said.
“We are not talking about building one of these (turbines),” Conner said. “We are talking about building a bunch of them. “It can significantly impact the landscape and how and where property will be developed in the future.”
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