The Birmingham Audubon Society’s board of directors say they have “serious reservations” about a proposed bill regulating wind turbine farms in Alabama.
The board is also calling on Alabamians to lobby for guidelines in the legislation to make sure wind developments do not impact bird migration pathways.
The Alabama Wind Energy Conversion Systems Act, or Senate Bill 12, was filed last month by State Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City).
Williams’ bill was inspired, in large part, by a proposed wind farm project by Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy that would stretch from Etowah to Cherokee County. Pioneer Green officials say new technology will allow windmill farms to flourish in the Southeast, a part of the nation that has seen very little wind energy development.
In a statement, the Birmingham Audubon Society posted to its Facebook page, the board stated that it is “not opposed to all wind turbines,” but that it is “absolutely necessary to properly site” the developments to avoid bird pathways and wildlife habitats.
“Proper siting will allow Alabama residents to realize the benefits of wind energy while minimizing impact to birds, other wildlife and habitats,” the statement reads. “As the Alabama Senate considers SB12, we encourage Birmingham Audubon members to ask their legislators to require guidelines that wind turbines be planned, sited and operated in a manner to reduce threats to habitat, birds and other wildlife.”
Suzanne Langley, the society’s executive director, said the board has discussed the issue for some time, but the dialogue has been going on in many Audubon Society chapters around the country.
“We’re not against wind energy,” Langley said. “We just want them to take into consideration habitats critical to certain species.”
Specifically, she mentioned wildlife populations either regaining numbers after becoming endangered or those in decline.
“Siting guidelines have to be taken into account,” she said. “These have been proposed and put into place in other parts of the country.”
The senate bill in its current eight-page version does not mention siting regulations. It mandates that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management handle the permits and enforcement for windmill farms. It also lays out decibel requirements and calls for the turbines to be bonded so that, in the event they are no longer used, they can be dismantled at no public cost.
Pioneer Green announced last year that it has acquired all the land rights it needs for the project to proceed in both counties. A group of landowners is currently suing to stop the project. An opposition group has also been working against the windmill farms, saying they will spoil the natural beauty and property values of the area. The proposed senate bill has gotten resolutions of support from the Gadsden City Council and the Cherokee County Commission.
Patrick Buckley, development manager for the Texas-based wind turbine developer, said late last year 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 following a meeting last year 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.
In an official statement from the company, Pioneer Green said of the proposed wind regulations, “We feel this bill is actually intended to be a moratorium on wind energy development.”
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