A statewide wind energy regulation bill proposed by Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, has passed the Senate and will move to the House.
Williams’ bill, which was approved Thursday, would provide uniform, statewide regulation of wind energy. He said that will level the playing field, subjecting wind companies to regulations that the oil, nuclear, coal and natural gas companies face.
There are planned projects in eight counties throughout Alabama, according to Williams, including Etowah and Cherokee counties.
The two local wind projects are being developed by Pioneer Green Energy, based in Austin, Texas. Pioneer Green is trying to build seven to eight turbines in Cherokee County and 35 to 50 in Etowah County. Development Manager Patrick Buckley said the bill as it currently exists essentially will put a moratorium on wind projects in Alabama. He said it’s not a sensible bill, and he hopes one of those will pass the House and be signed by the governor.
Williams said the bill is supported by a myriad of state and local agencies, such as the Public Service Commission, Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the governor’s office, the League of Municipalities and utility providers such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and Alabama Power Co.
The bill sets up bonds on the projects, institutes property setbacks with decibel limits and places wind energy under the PSC, like other modes of power production.
The biggest piece of contention between the two sides is the property setback limit. Williams’ bill requires the towers to be set back from residential or commercial structures or public use areas a distance equivalent to five times the towers’ height. The distance would be measured laterally from a tower’s center-mass base to the nearest edge of the structure or public use area in question.
Buckley said the turbines could be as tall as 558 feet, but his company has not purchased or arranged to purchase those specific turbines and could wind up going with something much smaller.
Williams said the limit is designed to protect adjacent property owners and acknowledged that was the most difficult piece of regulation for the wind companies. However, he said the law has a provision by which the companies can negotiate with the adjacent property owners and if those people sign waivers, the limits would not apply.
Buckley said the provisions are unusual because they place the decibel limits from the amount of noise generated from the turbines to be measured on the property lines, not on the houses that are on the property. He wondered if those kinds of limits would apply to things beyond just the wind farm.
“What’s next? Will the shooting range be held to the same sound limitations as the wind farms?” Buckley asked. “Some of the residents we’ve leased from who live on the mountain said they hear the range going all day.”
Williams said he has researched wind farms throughout the country and has seen success stories and disastrous stories associated with the turbines. He said he hopes the regulations will prevent many of the horror stories he had seen from past project.
He said he had seen rusted, decaying turbines that had been abandoned by the energy companies and were way too expensive for towns themselves to take down. He said his goal is to protect Alabamians from those problems as well as others associated with the turbines, such as shadow flicker.
“The most important thing for me is that our communities are protected and have assurance that if a wind farm goes bust, they’re not the ones left holding the bag,” Williams said.
Buckley remains optimistic about the projects’ chances, despite the bill passing in the Senate. He said he has worked with Williams before on his version of the bill and hopes revisions are possible before it becomes law. He said the projects have the potential to generate clean energy and bring a lot of revenue to Etowah and Cherokee counties, much of which could be used for schools.
He said Pioneer Green is continuing with its environmental permitting and also believes it will win the two lawsuits filed by Cherokee and Etowah County residents seeking to block the development of the wind farms.
However, Buckley was not as optimistic about his company’s next step should the bill be signed into law as-is.
“We would likely cease development in Alabama,” he said.
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