A Baldwin County commissioner told representatives of a wind energy company today that he is skeptical of their project, and he has concerns it will be bad for tourism.
“The risk to me is too big to take a gamble on this,” said Tucker Dorsey, who is the chairman of the four-member Baldwin County Commission.
Two representatives of APEX Wind Energy met with the commission to provide details and answer questions about the company’s proposed wind farm.
The Charlottesville, Va., company is considering developing a wind farm in south Baldwin County that will have about 40 turbines and will cost roughly $200 million.
Tucker Dorsey.jpg Tucker Dorsey
APEX Wind officials told the commission that it has leased more than 1,000 acres of land for the project, but it ultimately will need roughly 10,000 to 12,000 acres for it.
The company is trying to get the blessing of the commission to place the wind farm in Baldwin County. The wind farm has been dubbed the Foley Wind Project.
The 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.
County officials are studying what do about the construction and regulation of wind farms during the moratorium period.
Wade Barnes, an APEX development manager, and Jeff Ferguson, head of Gulf Coast development for APEX, met with commissioners for more than an hour.
“We are trying to provide you information,” Ferguson said. “We are collecting information. We do want to work with the county. We do want to explore this together. There is no question, if you say you don’t want us here, we’ll go somewhere else.”
Dorsey questions wind farm’s economic impact
All four commissioners asked questions about the wind farm, but it was Dorsey who was the most the critical of project.
One of the things Dorsey questioned was figures APEX Wind has used in regard to the economic impact of the wind farm.
The company, citing research by the National Renewable Energy Lab, said a standard 150 megawatt wind farm can generate $750,000 to $1.5 million in property taxes.
“But you are telling me that without knowing the assessment rate and the millage rate for your project,” Dorsey said. “You are telling me that you have a $200 million project, and you are ready to create all this property tax… and you don’t have the calculations to perform the mathematics.”
Ferguson said it should have been clearer where the numbers came from.
“Those are not… specific metrics for this project and for Baldwin County,” he said. “Those are averages of wind farm benefits. I apologize for that.”
Barnes said APEX Wind has partnered with a Troy University professor to have an economic study performed that is specifically for Baldwin County.
Dorsey also questioned the company’s estimate that the wind farm will be able to power about 23,000 homes.
Barnes said he came up with the figure using U.S. Energy Information Administration data as well as the company’s expectations for the project.
“I know it’s an accurate number,” he said.
Barnes said APEX is considering using 2.3 to 3 megawatt turbines for the project.
He said the 2.5 megawatt turbines that are produced at a General Electric plant in Pensacola, Fla., are being considered for the wind farm.
Barnes said depending on the turbine that is selected for the project a wind speed between 7 and 9 mph will be needed to turn the turbine’s blades. He said the turbines will be designed to shutdown when the wind gets up to about 50 mph.
The tourism debate
Dorsey said his main concern about the project is the size of the turbines.
He said he thinks the turbines will cause people to decide not to visit Baldwin County because they are not aesthetically pleasing.
The wind farm may consist of turbines that are 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.
“My biggest fear is that it negatively impacts our tourism industry, which is our golden egg,” Dorsey said.
Ferguson expressed doubt about Dorsey’s concern and suggested collecting data to see if his concern has any merit.
“I have been doing this for 10 years” he said. “I know of absolutely no instance in a coastal area where the presence of a wind farm has negatively impacted tourism, and so I was surprised by the sort of absolute nature of the comment that you made.”
Barnes’ and Ferguson’s presentation and their answers to questions about the wind farm didn’t seem to change Dorsey’s mind about the project.
“I am skeptical of the project,” he said. “I am skeptical of the numbers you are talking about and have to be concerned about the business and the economy that we generate here in Baldwin County.”
In a phone interview after the meeting, Barnes said Dorsey is asking the right questions about the wind farm.
“He is doing right by his constituents by making sure that any developer that comes into Baldwin County respects the rights of participating and nonparticipating landowners alike,” Barnes said. “That’s what we intend to do, so we have nothing to hide.”
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