MADISON COUNTY, Alabama – Three hundred-foot high wind turbines could be producing clean energy in the near future 10 miles east of Huntsville.
An energy company has expressed interest to landowners to erect turbines along ridge lines of Sharp, Bingham and Bice mountains. It basically follows the border between Madison and Jackson counties starting a few miles north of Gurley.
Horace Clemmons, a retired high-tech entrepreneur and Alabama District 8 Senate candidate, said he was contacted by NextEra Energy about putting turbines in his Sharp Mountain property. It’s still in initial stages and has some complex issues to overcome to make it a reality, he said.
“Just the remoteness of the area and the problems associated with getting anything to the top of the mountain,” he said. “Only off-road vehicles like four-wheelers can get there.”
Wind energy providers have proposed wind farms in eight different Alabama counties recently. A company called Pioneer Green seeks to build eight wind turbines in Cherokee County, at a new facility called the Shinbone Wind Energy Center.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, is pending in the Legislature to give the state jurisdiction in governing wind farms. It awaits a vote in the house of representatives after already being approved by the senate.
Though known for powerful tornadoes, North Alabama hardly has the same reputation for sustained high winds as do parts of the Midwest and across the Great Plains. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Wind Resource Map shows nothing in the state other than off the gulf coast suitable for wind power. But that is the case at ground level up to 50 meters. The situation improves dramatically at 80 meters, especially along mountain ridge lines.
Clemmons said NextEra told him that it’s interested in building turbines along ridge lines of the mountains that rise 1,600 to 1,700 feet above sea level.
It was clear NextEra had done its research about the sustainability of a wind farm on Sharp Mountain, he said, and if the company has a market for the energy then the plan makes sense.
Clemmons, who donated more than 3,000 acres on Sharp Mountain next to his home to The Nature Conservancy, has previously shown interest in clean energy. After selling his company, Post Software International, he built a 6,500-square foot green home in Paint Rock in 2001. He lived off the electric grid for years by generating his own power with solar panels and small hydroelectric generator powered by a cave creek.
“Given all the alternatives we have to generate energy, other than hydro that TVA uses in this area, I believe wind energy would be better than things like Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant and Widows Creek (coal-fired) plant,” Clemmons said.
“Wind has its drawbacks as it relates to birds and that kind of thing. To me it seems the least the harmful to our environment than anything other than than hydro. I pick it as the lessor of the evils,” he said.
Another property owner, Herndon Elliott of Madison, also said NextEra Energy contacted him to inquire about his interest in wind turbines.
Elliott said NextEra indicated it would begin the project as soon as it can get a critical mass of landowners to commit their land.
“I was told that there are two options. One is a fixed fee or $7,000 per year per turbine; the other is 6 percent of profits per year per turbine,” he said.
The contracted representative for NextEra told him the 6-percent option would generate the most revenue, but could fluctuate significantly, Elliott said.
The representative said she couldn’t answer media questions and passed on the request to NextEra, which is based in Juno Beach, Fla. AL.com contacted the company and was told a media representative would call back. That did not occur before as of Wednesday.
NextEra Energy reported it was one of the largest generators of wind-powered electricity in North America in 2011 with 8,569 megawatts of capacity at 88 facilities in 17 states and three Canadian provinces. That’s enough emissions-free energy to power more than 2 million homes. NextEra Energy also said in stockholder’s reports that it is the largest generator of utility-scale solar power in the United States.
NextEra was named No. 1 overall among electric and gas utilities on Fortune magazine’s 2014 list of the ‘World’s Most Admired Companies. In addition to being named No. 1 overall in the energy sector, it also was ranked first for innovation, first for social responsibility and first for quality of products/services,
Also earlier this year, NextEra was one of 144 companies worldwide ranked as a World’s Most Ethical Company by the Ethisphere Institute. It was the seventh straight year NextEra received the ranking.
Sharp Mountain overlooks a rural valley fed by Hurricane Creek on the Madison County side.
A Killingsworth Cove Road resident, whose back yard looks out over Smith Lake and the west side of Sharp Mountain, said he’s opposed to a wind farm for two reasons: Construction crews can only access the mountain from Killingsworth Cove Road, and he does not want the heavy equipment traffic; and giant turbines would ruin the tranquil view of mountain.
The resident, who declined to give in name, said his family has lived there for more than 40 years, and most of his neighbors chose the location because of its quiet, natural setting.
The location of the possible wind farm could put it at odds with The Nature Conservancy of Alabama. It manages the 3,000-acre Sharps-Bingham Mountain Preserve along the Madison-Jackson counties border.
Among its protection interests are “high concentrations of rare or declining neotropical migratory breeding birds such as the worm eating warbler, wood thrush and Kentucky warbler,” its Website shows.
Nature Conservancy staff members at the state office in Birmingham were expected to be unavailable until Monday.