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Proponents, opponents react to local wind farm bills

With local bills governing wind energy in Etowah and Cherokee counties signed into law Thursday, proponents and opponents are explaining the benefits or problems they create.

The bills regulate the permitting and process, the setbacks from property lines needed for construction, decibel limits and bonding and land restoration regulations for the removal of wind turbines when a project ends, whether through the end of its life or abandonment.

Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, sponsored the bills. He also is the sponsor of a state bill regulating wind energy throughout Alabama. However, these bills are separate and their passage has no bearing on the future of the state bill, which was unanimously approved by the House Commerce Committee on Wednesday.

“(The signing of the bills) gives me a great sense of relief,” Williams said. “If the statewide bill reaches an impasse, our citizens will be protected.”

The bills state that local governments must adopt rules, laws or ordinances governing the construction of wind farms as well. Etowah County CEO Patrick Simms said the County Commission is waiting on the state bill to see what it needs to do, compared to what the state already will do, if the bill passes.

Pioneer Green Energy has plans to build two wind projects on Lookout Mountain in Etowah and Cherokee counties. Development Manager Patrick Buckley said the new legislation would cause both counties to become two of the most highly regulated wind markets he has ever seen, and is unaware of similar property setbacks anywhere else.

Buckley said the 2,500-foot setbacks required in the legislation were the worst he had ever seen. He said the law is an assault on property owners throughout the area and state, and runs contrary to the pro-business atmosphere that Alabama likes to promote.

“This is the expansion of government with these regulations,” Buckley said. “You’re basically telling a land owner what they can and can’t do with their property.”

Williams said the regulations are not meant to affect property rights, but are to protect adjacent property owners from nuisance. He said during the researching of the bill, he saw places throughout the nation and world where there were larger setbacks, such as Umatilla County, Ore., and in parts of Australia, which have 2-mile and 2-kilometer setbacks, respectively.

Buckley said the goal of the local legislation was to kill Pioneer Green’s projects. He said the projects invest $200 million in both counties, a large chunk of which would benefit the schools in both counties. Williams denied his bill was aimed at any specific project.

“The intent of the bill was never to kill anything,” he said. “The intent was to protect our citizens.”