Cleburne County resident Carolyn Doggett said she worried when she heard about the possibility of a wind turbine farm near Turkey Heaven Mountain, not far from her property.
She said she felt better when she heard the Alabama Senate this year passed a bill setting up an application process through the Public Service Commission for the wind farms as well as establishing a minimum distance the farms must be from neighboring properties – five times the height of the tower to the property line.
But then Doggett discovered Cleburne County was excluded from those regulations. She said she called her state senator, Gerald Dial, to find out why.
“He said to me, ‘Because your officials came down here and told us that’s what they wanted and that’s what the county wants,’” Doggett told the County Commission during its meeting Monday. “I’m here to tell you that 99.9 percent of the county has no clue about what’s going on.”
These kinds of decisions shouldn’t happen until the residents are informed and educated about the benefits and the risks, Doggett said.
Doggett’s comments came as Ranburne resident Fred Kitchens spoke to the commission in favor of the project, planned by California-based Terra-Gen Power. Kitchens has contacted Doggett as well as other local residents and officials about the project.
There are only four residences in the area near the proposed windmill farm and the closest home to a proposed turbine is almost a mile away, he said. But the farm would bring jobs – about 300 during construction and eight to 10 well-paying permanent jobs once the farm was operational, Kitchens said.
“This is clean energy,” Kitchens said. “It’s environmentally friendly.”
Efforts to reach Dial for comment were unsuccessful Monday.
Ryan Robertson, chairman of the commission, said he did introduce Kitchens to the individual commissioners as well as to Dial. But Roberston said he only gave Dial his individual opinion in favor of the exclusion. Robertson said he didn’t speak on behalf of the county.
“Dial made the decision for his constituents,” Robertson said.
County Administrator Steve Swafford, who was also at the meeting with Dial, agreed with Robertson.
Commissioner Laura Cobb said the issue was never discussed in a commission meeting. She said she only found out about it when she ran into one of the Terra-Gen representatives, Cobb said.
Commissioner Emmett Owen said he had spoken to some people about the wind farm and asked them to come to a commission meeting to talk about it in public.
“I think it should have had the backing of a resolution,” Owen said. “I think if they’re pushing legislation or an agenda, as far as the commission is concerned, it needs to start here.”
The legislation was unexpected, Kitchens said.
Swafford said the legislation’s regulations were so restrictive that if passed, a wind farm would never be built in Alabama. He noted minimum distance requirements for the farms as an example.
Kitchens said that using measurements from the American Wind Energy Association, the average height of a wind turbine would be 140 meters. Five times that would be 2,296.6 feet – less that the mile the farm is estimated to be from nearest residence.
Kitchens added that the company has a self-imposed setback of 1,000 feet from any residence. He didn’t specify whether that was from the property line or the house itself. Kitchens told the commissioners the county needs to attract new industry and the wind farm would help.
“Almost everybody that has a good job in Cleburne County has to travel someplace else,” Kitchens said. “We now have an opportunity to attract $200 million in private capital to be invested on 100 percent private land in a semi-wilderness area, Turkey Heaven Mountain.”
Robertson said the House of Representatives was having a hearing on the bill on Wednesday and that he had been invited to attend. He asked the commissioners if they would like him to represent the county and speak in favor of excluding the county in the legislation. The commissioners voted unanimously to allow him to speak for them in favor of the exclusion.
In other business the commission:
— Approved providing up to $1,500 in materials for the Cleburne County Search and Rescue to build a wall in the facility they will be sharing with the Cleburne County Board of Education. The wall will separate school property from the Search and Rescue equipment.
— Approved allocating $4,319.15 to the Ranburne schools for fence screening and sports seating for the school facilities.
— Approved hiring Forsyth Construction as construction manager for replacing the windows in the County Courthouse. As construction manager the company would be responsible for reviewing architectural plans, managing the bidding process, holding the preconstruction meeting, inspecting the project twice a week, doing the final inspection and closing out the project. The county will pay Forsyth $8,800 for the work.
— Approved starting the process to vacate a portion of County Road 62 from the present Cameron West/Charles Myers property line, east to the intersection with County Road 457. The hearing on the issue will be April 21.
— Approved 3-1 a special event liquor license for Hollis Crossroads Volunteer Fire and Rescue for a fundraiser in May at Ross Mountain Adventures. The money raised will go toward construction of a new facility, said Chief Dan Hopkins. Commissioner Bobby Brooks voted no.