Etowah and Cherokee County residents on Saturday visited two separate open houses held by Pioneer Green Energy to learn about and either support or voice their concerns over the company’s proposed wind projects.
About 100 to 150 people showed up at the open house in Gadsden, and 50 to 75 showed up in Centre.
Pioneer Green plans to build wind turbines on Lookout Mountain and Shinbone Ridge. It is only a developer, so once the project is complete, it likely will sell the project to Alabama Power or the Tennessee Valley Authority, which will sell the electricity and maintain the turbines.
Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, also was on hand to meet with people and to inform them about legislation he plans to propose. He said he is skeptical of the projects.
“While it may not be new nationally, it is a novel thing (in Alabama),” he said. “We (have to) address the concerns of our constituents.”
Williams said most of the people who have spoken to him about the projects are very skeptical and do not want them.
The legislation he is going to propose will be modeled after some of the successful projects and will ensure that companies cannot just abandon the turbines if they decide they are no longer viable.
One of those success stories is Sheldon, N.Y. Town Supervisor John Knab was at the open houses to explain how the 75 wind turbines built on nearby dairy farms have been a boon for his community.
Knab said the increased tax revenue coming in from the project has allowed Sheldon to get rid of town taxes and saves homeowners money on property taxes. He said the money from the turbines has helped improve local schools, build parks and renovate a cemetery, and that because of the tax benefits and leases from the company, land value in Sheldon has gone up.
Steven Smith lives on Owls Hollow Road and is strongly opposed to Pioneer Green’s plans. He said he prefers solar energy and doesn’t believe there is sufficient wind for the turbines. He said he built his house with his own two hands and the turbines would be all he would see from his yard.
“I did all these things in good faith thinking the mountain be the same as it always has been,” Smith said.
Donald Chandler also lives on Lookout Mountain, on Lay Springs Road, but he is for the proposed project there. He said he likes the idea of clean, renewable energy for this area.
Chandler said he believes the impact of the turbines on his property would be minimal, and that the biggest benefit of the project would be revenue, both for himself and the community.
“(It is) a little extra retirement money for me coming in,” he said. “Any little bit of money it brings in will be a significant amount in the long term.”
Knab and Williams both agreed on the importance of proper laws to help ensure the proposed projects’ success. Williams’ legislation would not just affect the Gadsden area, but the entire state, as other companies are proposing wind projects in Baldwin and Cleburne counties.
Knab said the most important thing is to have determined and dedicated developers.
“Developers need to stick with it,” he said. “It’s helped the economy of the town.”
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