So called green energy companies have long been the beneficiaries of favorable treatment by the federal government. Tax breaks, subsidies, and often a total lack of regulation have given them a leg up on their heavily regulated fossil fuels competitors. But now that a bill to at least somewhat “level the playing field” is making its way through the Alabama Senate, several wind energy providers are hiring high-paid lobbyists to help them maintain their competitive advantage.
Wind energy providers have proposed wind farms in 8 different Alabama counties. One of those proposed wind farms was conceived by a company called Pioneer Green, which recently announced plans to build eight wind turbines in Cherokee County, Ala. at a new facility called the Shinbone Wind Energy Center. Local citizens began to speak out about the proposed wind project and raised concerns to their state senator, Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City.
Williams began studying wind farms located in other parts of the country. He found numerous examples of wind energy companies making big promises of jobs and economic development that ultimately never materialized. He specifically noted the Horizon Wind project in Oregon, which received over $11 million in subsidies but only created thirty-six jobs at a cost to Oregon taxpayers of over $305,000 per job.
Williams also looked into the background of Pioneer Green and its executives. He found that Pioneer Green’s president, Andy Bowman, has carefully positioned his company to receive favorable treatment from the Obama Administration. He was even among the the president’s inner circle that was allowed to attend the president’s 50th birthday party in Chicago.
But the most concerning part of Williams’ research may have come from the realization that the State of Alabama has no laws on the books to protect citizens and communities when it comes to wind energy production. For instance, while regulations on coal mining require an almost unimaginable amount of research, proposals, permits, reclamation plans, insurance and numerous other safeguards overseen by independent government entities, wind farms are largely free to do as they please without any real oversight to speak of.
Two groups of citizens in Williams’ district have filed lawsuits against Pioneer Green asking for a judge to block the proposed project, at least until the state creates a regulatory framework to protect the local community. Williams went to work crafting a bill that would do exactly that. He immediately found that 5 other legislators had introduced bills to address the issue in their local areas. He realized then that there may be a need for a statewide solution to wind energy regulation.
After getting feedback from a wide variety of groups, including the League of Municipalities, Aviation Council, major utility providers, ALFA, the County Commission Association, the Business Council, and even three separate wind energy companies, Williams drew up SB12, a bill that would provide a comprehensive regulatory structure for wind energy companies seeking to locate in Alabama.
Here are a few things the bill does:
• Standardizes the rules on wind energy production in the State of Alabama
• Allows the Alabama Public Service Commission to regulate wind energy companies, just like they do other energy providers in Alabama
• Establishes uniform setbacks from property lines
• Sets noise decibel limits for wind farms
• Requires wind energy companies to submit a reclamation plan for how they will repair the landscape once they leave
• Requires wind energy companies to give “financial assurance” in the form of a surety bond or cash escrow account, so if they go bankrupt like Solyndra and other green energy companies, there will still be money left to remove the project
Although green energy companies have been major beneficiaries of increased regulation on traditional energy providers, they apparently don’t like it when they are expected to meet a minimum level of standards themselves. Two out-of-state wind energy companies have already hired lobbyists to try to stop SB12 from passing in the Alabama Senate.
But Williams is undeterred. His bill is set to come up on the floor of the senate this week.
“Senate Bill 12 is extremely important because it protects Alabama citizens and communities from the perils that we’ve seen in other parts of the country with regard to wind farms,” he told Yellowhammer. “It also prevents a patchwork quilt of local bills that create a regulatory nightmare statewide.”
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