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Regulation of wind farms closer to law

MONTGOMERY – A bill that would make it “very difficult” for two proposed wind farms in northeast Alabama is closer to becoming law.

The bill from Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, gives the Public Service Commission and governments authority to approve wind farms.
It was approved in the Senate last month and a House committee on Wednesday. It now goes to the full House.

“There is zero law in Alabama that says or does or regulates anything regarding wind farms,” Williams said Wednesday.

Senate Bill 12 authorizes the Alabama Public Service Commission to adopt rules regulating the location, design, installation and operation of wind farms.

Under Williams’ bill, windmills would have to be set back from a property line a distance equal to five times their heights. A plan would have to be in place for dismantling turbines if the project failed. It also regulates noise levels.

Pioneer Green, a Texas-based company, has been looking at two projects along the Shinbone Ridge in Etowah and Cherokee counties. The projects could put as many as 50 wind turbines as tall as 360 feet along the ridge.

Pioneer Green development manager Patrick Buckley said the two projects have a combined investment of about $200 million. The Tennessee Valley Authority already agreed to purchase electricity from the Cherokee project, and the company had done several impact studies, including sound, archeological and biological.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and money adhering to the rules and laws of Alabama,” Buckley said. “We think it is highly unfair to have the rug pulled from under us now. I think there are some good things in this bill, but there are some things that are straight shots at our projects.”

Committee member Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, asked if there were other places in the state where wind farms could be developed. Buckley said later the coast and northeast Alabama are really the only places in the state suitable for wind farms.

“(The bill) would hinder our ability to develop projects in Cherokee and Etowah counties.”