Two proposed wind farms in Alabama could be derailed by a bill passed by the state Senate. At least that’s the fear of Austin, Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy, which wants to build wind farms in Etowah and Cherokee Counties. Senator Phil Williams’ (R-Cherokee, Etowah Counties) Senate Bill 12 set regulations on wind farms that Pioneer says amount to a moratorium on wind energy in the state, though a substitute version amounted to what Pioneer representatives called “a step in the right direction.” Among them are a cap on the noise a turbine can produce. The original bill called for a hard cap of 40 decibels:
(i) The noise levels measured at the property line of the property on which the system has been installed shall not exceed 40 decibels.
But a substitute offered by Williams on Feb. 20th raised it to an average of 50-decibel levels measured at the property line border. From the substitute:
(m) The noise levels directly attributable to the operation of the system measured at the property line of the property on which the system has been installed shall not exceed an average of 50 decibels.
Pioneer says they have no problem with the decibel levels, but they have a problem with where they would be measured from. They say rather than the property line, decibel level should be measured at bordering homes or structures. Steve Shaneyfelt is the property owner where one of the wind farms would be located. He says the rule doesn’t make sense.
Shaneyfelt: “You know down here in rural Alabama with all the noise factors we have with gun ranges, and road traffic, and trains, that’s a pretty big restriction compared with no restriction on all the other things, but we have to respect other people’s property, other people’s privacy. I absolutely agree to that. I think there’s a way to do it without making it so onerous that a project cannot be constructed.”
The bill also sets limits on how far a turbine can be located to the nearest homes and buildings. Again, that rule was amended in the substitute from what was a limit of 2,500 feet from the nearest property line:
(j) A wind energy conversion system may not encroach upon adjacent properties as determined by a measure of 2,500 feet from the center-mass base of the system to the nearest edge of the adjacent property.
The substitute sets the limit at 5 times the height of the turbine to the nearest occupied structure:
(n)(1) A wind energy conversion system may not encroach upon occupied residential or commercial structures or public use areas as determined by a measure of five times the height of the turbine tower as measured laterally from the center-mass base of the system to the nearest edge of the residential or commercial structures or public use areas.
Shaneyfelt says his property isn’t large enough to accommodate the proposed restriction. Patrick Buckley, the Development Manager at Pioneer Energy says it’s far more restrictive than industry standards.
Patrick Buckley: “We’re held to a much stricter standard than any other industry that we’re aware of in the state of Alabama. We feel like not only is this out of line with industry standards, but this is definitely a very, very strict regulation. And then comparing it to other industries, you look at the coal industry, a coal mine can be placed 300 feet from a home, and a hundred feet from a property boundary line. So we don’t feel like we’re getting a fair shake.”
Bill Sponsor Senator Phil Williams did not return multiple calls and e-mails over several days in time for this story, though efforts are ongoing. He said during floor debate that any new alternative energy in the state must be regulated. Property owners in Etowah County filed a lawsuit against the project. Lawyers for the plaintiffs told the National Review the wind farms would create what they claim would be an “overwhelming negative impact to the scenic beauty of the area,” and that vacation and secondary home construction business would be lost.
The bill passed the Senate Thursday afternoon 24-6 and now goes to the House.
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