November 18, 2013

PGE: Bill a ‘moratorium’; Williams says language necessary to protect citizens

By Scott Wright, Managing Editor | The Post | Monday, November 18, 2013 |

CENTRE – Pioneer Green Energy (PGE), the Texas-based company planning to build two wind turbines farms in northeast Alabama, last week said a proposed law, if passed, would make it “near impossible” for companies like theirs to pursue wind energy projects in the state.

“PGE is not opposed to regulatory legislation, and in fact we strongly support responsible wind project development practices,” the company said in a statement released Nov. 12. “However, we feel this bill is actually intended to be a moratorium on wind energy development.”

Senate Bill 12 (SB12) has already been pre-filed by state Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, in advance of the 2014 session of the Alabama Legislature, which begins in February. Both of the proposed wind sites are in Williams’ district.

The bill would, in part, give local governing bodies throughout Alabama – either county commissions or city councils – the ability to approve or deny a permit for a wind farm inside their jurisdiction. Approved projects would be subject to the authority of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).

Williams defended the restrictive language in the bill as necessary to protect property values and the natural beauty of the areas adjacent to the sites of the proposed wind farms.

“Free market principles are the bedrock of our society, but they are always subject to the law of the land,” Williams told The Post on Friday. “If there is ever going to be a wind farm of this scope in our state then it must be done reasonably and responsibly.”

But PGE officials took issue with several aspects of the bill that they seem to consider unreasonable, including a provision that would require a setback of 2,500 feet from any turbine to “the nearest edge of the adjacent property.” PGE pointed out that Alabama law currently allows coal mines to be constructed withing 300 feet of neighboring property.

Williams said there was a reason to seek such a sizeable minimum distance for the two project planned for Lookout Mountain.

“That recognizes the fact that this is a ridge line with narrow access and both immediate and lower-level properties will be affected,” he said.

SB12 also proposes bonding on any wind energy project in case the turbines become inoperable and have to be removed.

PGE said in its statement that the language is unnecessary and restrictive because “Pioneer has already addressed this issue in its leases with each of the landowners” involved in the Etowah and Cherokee project.

“Should this legislation be passed in its current state, it would prevent millions of dollars of future potential investment and economic benefits of wind energy from coming to Etowah and Cherokee counties,” the statement read. “It would prevent new industry from coming to Alabama to create clean, domestic all-American energy and jobs.”

Williams remained staunch in his support of the language in, and need for, SB12.

“In this case there is a complete absence of authority in Alabama to protect my constituents and communities from the proven hazards that have accompanied similar projects elsewhere,” he said.

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