GADSDEN, Alabama – A representative of Pioneer Green Energy said wind energy projects in Etowah and Cherokee counties will probably be delayed until 2015.
Patrick Buckley, development manager for the Texas-based wind turbine developer, said the company is still moving forward with the projects, but that both have been pushed back due to time needed to secure permits and agreements with utilities which would purchase the power generated.
Buckley said today following a meeting of the Etowah County Commission that the $40 million Cherokee County project, which calls for seven to eight turbines, probably would not begin construction until 2015. The larger Etowah County project, which has a projected 30 to 45 turbines costing $160 million, probably would begin no earlier than the end of 2015.
Buckley spoke to the commission during a work session, along with landowners who have signed lease agreements with Pioneer Green to allow the construction of the turbines on their property. Their aim was to urge the commission not to support proposed legislation which would impose regulations on the wind energy industry in Alabama.
Pioneer Green announced earlier this year its intention to develop the two projects, which are now the subject of lawsuits in both counties. Landowners in both Etowah and Cherokee counties are suing to stop the projects, claiming they will disrupt the area’s natural beauty and destroy property values.
Steve Shaneyfelt, one of the landowners who is backing the Pioneer Green project, said his family is still “excited” about the wind farms project but there are pieces yet to be put together.
“This is a journey we started on about 10 to 12 years ago,” he said. “People say there’s not enough wind for this project to work, but we think the data speaks clearly that there is enough.”
Buckley said Pioneer Green is working on four years of wind data and struck back at opposition claims that the company only seeks to build the turbines to receive government incentives. He said to receive even a tax credit, a company has to generate energy for 10 years at a wind farm site.
He said some landowners’ fears may be prompted by the history of the wind energy industry, when companies got incentives to erect turbines which then stood unused and fell into disrepair. The nature of the industry now, he said, is such that companies spend much more on turbines, making it impractical for them to abandon the projects without some return on the investment.
Those landowners’ fears are understandable, he said, since this would be the first wind energy project for Alabama.
“It’s typical of anything that has visual implications,” Buckley said. “It’s typical of anything new, and we understand the concerns. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And with anything, you look at the benefits and the perceived impacts. We’re still talking about a very clean energy source.”
Buckley also said the company feels proposed legislation which would regulate the wind industry in Alabama is “unreasonable.” State Sen. Phil Williams, (R-Rainbow City) earlier this month asked the commission to support a bill which would regulate wind energy projects through the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Several cities, including Gadsden, have passed resolutions in favor of the legislation.
Buckley said the bill would make wind energy developments “near impossible” through overly stringent regulations. In an official statement from the company, Pioneer Green said, “We feel this bill is actually intended to be a moratorium on wind energy development.”
The company specifically pointed to the requirement of a bond to cover the cost of removing the turbines should they become inactive. Buckley stated the company’s existing lease agreements with landowners in Etowah and Cherokee counties already have bond agreements in place. He also mentioned setback and noise level requirements, which he said deal with turbines and noise levels being a certain distance from property lines, rather than from the nearest residence.
“We’re not opposed to legislation,” Buckley said. “We’re just not in favor of unreasonable legislation.”
Leland Shaneyfelt, another of the group leasing the property for the turbines, said he objected to the proposed legislation, saying it would impose restrictions on his rights as a property owner.
“The wind doesn’t belong to no one but God,” he said. “And I think I, as a property owner, have a right to use every inch of my land as I want to.”
County officials have taken no official stance for or against the wind farm project. Buckley once again touted the results of an economic impact study saying the county stands to receive anywhere from $700,000 to $1.1 million in revenue from a wind development.