BAY MINETTE, Ala. – There will not be a massive wind farm in Baldwin County, but using smaller wind turbines as a source of renewable energy will be allowed.
The Baldwin County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to ban large wind turbines that produce 50 kilowatts or more. The move slams the door on the Foley Wind Project, a proposition by Charlottesville, Va.-based APEX Wind Energy to install a wind farm with around 40 turbines that would have been more than 500 feet tall.
“The RSA Tower would have been the only thing taller than them on the Gulf Coast,” said commission president Tucker Dorsey. “They had already talked to some property owners in the County Road 12 and 49 area.
“This (ordinance) is not to stop APEX. They were the first to bring it up and we realized we needed to look at it.”
The wind farm idea prompted the commission in February to issue a 180-day moratorium against wind turbines that produced more then 5 KW. That action was set to expire Aug. 17.
“People were overwhelmingly against the idea of a wind farm from the visual and noise standpoint.”
Several people spoke up during a public hearing Tuesday morning to voice their opposition to the large wind turbines. Some wanted clarification of the language dealing with smaller wind turbines, such as the ones at The Original Oyster House in Spanish Fort and Lulu’s in Gulf Shores.
Chester McConnell, vice president of the Mobile Bay Audubon Society, said that wind farms kill an estimated 573,000 birds each year across the country.
“We have billions of birds that migrate between North America and South America each year,” said McConnell. “They concentrate in Baldwin County and on Dauphin Island as they stop to fatten up before setting off on the 30-hour trip over the Gulf. We don’t think a wind farm should be placed in a coastal county.”
Tom Noland questioned the safety of placing large windmills in hurricane country. “Can they assure us that those monstrous turbines won’t break loose and fly through the area (during a hurricane)?” he asked.
Paul Muller, who is working to install a wind turbine and other green energy sources at Pirate’s Cove restaurant, said the ordinance was restrictive. He pointed to limits on turbine output.
“Why would you want to restrict the output?” he asked. “You already have restrictions for the height and noise levels. Through improvements in technology, a turbine that produces 25 KW today might be able to produce 100 KW using the same size and footprint in the near future.”
Muller said he is working to install a 20 KW turbine as well as solar collectors at his family’s restaurant in Josephine.
“This (ordinance) kind a put a wrench in the works,” said Muller. “When we started, there were no restrictions. But the one we’re getting meets all the criteria.”
What is allowed
The ordinance will allow small residential turbines (1 KW). Residents with larger lots or farms could install up to two. Commercial and industrial lots could have up to five.
“The micro turbine could be up to 35 feet tall,” said county planning director Vince Jackson. “That is considered an accessory structure. But there are some micro turbines small enough to mount on the side of a house like a satellite dish.”
Small wind turbines, up to 10 KW, would require at least an acre and could be up to 80 feet from the ground to the tip of the propeller in the 12 o’clock position. Turbines up to 50 KW would require a lot of at least five acres and could be up to 100 feet tall.
The ordinance does not affect the traditional windmill or windpumps, which convert the wind into mechanical energy to pump water from wells, typically for farm irrigation.
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