The Baldwin County Commission effectively put the brakes on a company’s plan to put large wind turbines in the county by passing an ordinance Tuesday than bans wind farms.
The commission unanimously voted to pass two ordinances that ban large wind turbines and wind farms in Baldwin County.
One ordinances applies to areas in the county that fall under the county’s zoning regulations. The other ordinance applies to unincorporated areas of the county that do not fall under the county’s zoning regulations.
The county was given the authority from the Alabama Legislature to regulate wind turbines and wind farms in areas that do not fall under the county’s zoning rules.
The ordinances allow for micro and small turbines, the kind that are often found at homes and business, but certain restrictions are in place, like setbacks.
The commission became concerned with wind farms and large turbines in the county after hearing about a plan by APEX Wind Energy in Charlottesville, Va., to put a wind farm with about 40 turbines in south Baldwin County.
The company’s plan – the Foley Wind Project – resulted in the commission passing a 180-day moratorium in February that prohibited the construction of wind farms and other wind-operated facilities that could produce energy in excess of five kilowatts. It was set to expire Aug. 17.
The commission’s concerns included noise pollution from the turbines, the size of the turbines and the danger the turbines present to migratory birds.
“I have had dozens of emails from around the country from people that say, ‘You don’t want this in your backyard,'” said Tucker Dorsey, commission chairman.
Wade Barnes, an APEX development manager, said it is unfortunate that the commission decided not to allow landowners to use their property in the manner in which they choose.
APEX has been meeting with landowners and securing agreements to put wind turbines on their properties. APEX was considering putting up turbines that were 520 to 590 feet tall from the tower’s base to the tip of a blade at the 12 o’clock position.
“In instituting a ban on wind energy, Baldwin County has sacrificed an opportunity to boost local economic development, and it has given up the chance to capitalize on a local energy resource that is clean, cost effective, abundant and homegrown, ” Barnes said.
APEX’s next step will be to review the ordinances and get an understanding of the ordinances’ impact, Barnes said.
At today’s commission meeting, several people expressed their thoughts about the ordinances. Some pushed the commission to move forward with the ban, and others asked the commission to extend the moratorium and study the issue some more.
Those who were favor in the ban were most concerned about the dangers that turbines present to migratory birds.
Earlier this year, the Associated Press, citing the Wildlife Society Bulletin, reported that wind turbines kill more than 573,000 birds in the U.S. each year.
“For this reason, the audubon is very cautious about where wind mill farms should be located,” said Chester McConnell, vice president of the Mobile Bay Audubon Society. “One of the places we don’t want them to be located is in Baldwin County.”
Baldwin County resident Paul Muller pointed out that lots of birds also are killed each year by high tension transmission lines, oil spills, cars and feral and domestic cats.
“Just as a frame of reference, yes, wind turbines do kill birds,” he said. “However, other things that we do kill birds also. Somethings in nature kill many more migratory birds than we do.”
Dave Perry, a former scientist with a pharmaceutical company, wanted the commission to extend the moratorium 30 to 60 days.
He gave several reasons why, including the restrictiveness of the ordinances and a lacking of understanding among residents about the ordinances and wind farms.
Perry also said the long term effect of the ordinance should be studied, and he thinks the ordinances will discourage technology companies from locating in Baldwin County.
“Twenty-five or 30 years from now we all may be dead, but the next generation may want to embrace this,” he said. “They will have look at this ordinance and will have to make changes to this. Lets try to get it right the first time.”
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