Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, has introduced a bill that would regulate wind projects throughout the state and give the Alabama Department of Environmental Management oversight on the proposed projects.
The bill, called the Alabama Wind Energy Conversion Systems Act of 2013, was introduced because of the five proposed projects throughout the state. Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy is proposing projects in Etowah and Cherokee counties – in Williams’ district – to begin within the next year.
Williams said he based the bill on legislation from Sheldon, N.Y., where wind turbines have created a boon for the town. Sheldon has used the extra tax revenue to eliminate property taxes and, as a result, land values there have skyrocketed. He pointed to Sheldon as an example of how proactive legislation helped eliminate a lot of the risk of erecting turbines.
One of the major parts of the bill states that development companies, like Pioneer Green, would need “financial assurance” in place before beginning a project. The assurance would be in the form of a bond or in cash, and would be used for decommissioning costs for the turbines.
Williams said the assurance is needed to protect landowners and communities in case the projects do not go according to plan. The bill also requires $1 million in financial assurance to cover damages to adjoining properties.
“The community needs to know they won’t be stuck with a derelict wind farm,” Williams said. “(The bill) shows developers we are serious about protecting our citizens.”
The bill also would require developers to get permits from ADEM before building. To get the permits, developers would have to have a visual simulation of the proposed project, a reclamation plan to return the site to its original state prior to construction and a plot plan showing the locations of the turbines in the project, where guy lines would be required and the distance of each from property lines.
Williams said the bill stipulates that no residences can be within 1,000 feet of the turbines, although he said that number may rise. It also will require fencing and signs around the turbines themselves and require the design to be unclimbable. The bill also defines abandonment of the turbines, which would be a turbine that does not operate for one year straight.
Pioneer Green Energy Vice President David Savage said much of the bill is common sense, but while its intentions are good, it also has some major flaws. He said the creation of a new regulatory body where one does not exist already could cause a bureaucratic headache.
“If a complicated and detailed bureaucratic process … tries to make us do what we already do, companies could think twice (about coming to Alabama),” Savage said. “That could delay or completely chill the wind industry in Alabama.”
Savage pointed to the fact that many of the permit requirements always are done by reputable wind developers like Pioneer Green, and creating regulatory oversight potentially could do more harm than good. He said much of the language in the bill is vague, so its value will largely be tied to its implementation.
He also had an issue with the financial assurance clause, insisting that requiring it from the outset was unnecessary because the salvage value of the turbines themselves far exceeds the decommissioning costs.
Savage also raised a concern that the bill could infringe on property rights. He said the service roads on private property would be overseen by the Department of Transportation. He also said the noise requirements on the property leased for the turbines was equally confusing, and makes little sense when applied to the property of people who wanted the turbines there in the first place.
What began as a local bill applying to Etowah and Cherokee counties now has statewide implications, with other developers proposing projects in Baldwin, Cleburne and St. Clair counties.
In the end, Williams said, he is skeptical of all these projects.
“I don’t think they have the return on investment they say they have,” he said. “I think they are a blight on the landscape.”
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