Officials with Pioneer Green Energy say proposed legislation to regulate wind farms in Alabama is just a move to keep the windmills out of Alabama.
Patrick Buckley, development manager for Pioneer Green, on Tuesday told Etowah County commissioners that the company is not opposed to regulatory legislation, but the bill proposed by Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, is intended as a moratorium on wind energy development.
“Effectively, this says no windmills in Alabama,” he said.
Buckley said the bill is not in line with other, practical legislation that has allowed responsible and successful wind energy development in other states.
He said a requirement that the turbines be set back 2,500 feet from the nearest edge of any property lines would prevent any landowner who doesn’t own hundreds of thousands of acres of contiguous land from being involved in the development. He contrasted the requirement with current regulations for coal mining permits, which require a 300-foot setback from any residence.
Wiliams’ bill requires a bond be in place that would cover the cost of removing turbines should they become inactive.
Buckley said Pioneer Green has already addressed the issue in its leases with landowners on the Noccalula and Shinbone projects.
He said stories of turbines being abandoned in the 1980s in California involved a much different type of turbine, and now it’s not practical to abandon them.
Buckley said studies have shown, using four years of wind data, that wind and solar projects are viable. He said the company would not receive any return on the investment until the project is built, which means it would not abandon the project before it is complete. He said there would only be a profitable return after the project provided an energy tax credit.
“It would be impossible to spend money and walk away,” he said.
Pioneer Green already has a contract with TVA for the Cherokee County project, Buckley said, with about 7 or 8 turbines.
He said the project in Etowah County would be between 30 and 45 turbines, but transmission and other studies would need to be completed before a power agreement could be reached.
TVA and Alabama Power both already use wind power from wind farms in the Midwest, according to Buckley. Power is distributed on the grids and reaches this area through transmission lines.
Buckley said economic studies show the $160 million project in Etowah County would bring in an estimated tax revenue of $701 million, and the company is not asking for any tax abatements. He said the hurdle is getting a power contract.
He said Pioneer Green Energy is not opposed to regulatory legislation for wind farms, but is opposed to unreasonable legislation.
The numbers mentioned recently by Williams of the turbines being 570 feet high are the maximum height, Buckley said, and represent the tallest turbines available. He said the turbines most likely would not be that tall, but the maximum was used for all studies so multiple studies are not required.
Patrick Simms, chief administrative officer for the commission, said county officials are concerned with wording in the legislation that gives them zoning allowances. He said if they regulate and zone wind farms, the next issue will be a request to regulate and zone for poultry and hog farms.
Steve Shaneyfelt, a property owner, said terms of contracts with the landowners are confidential, but he and other property owners who have agreements are pleased with the provisions.
His brother, Leland Shaneyfelt, said they bought the land years ago and should be able to do whatever they want with it.
“The wind don’t belong to anybody but God,” he said.
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