GADSDEN, Alabama – The lawyer for a Texas-based company abandoning plans for two windmill farms in northeast Alabama said today that recently approved state regulations on wind energy led to the decision.
Charlie Stewart, attorney for Pioneer Green Energy, said the company no longer has plans to develop two wind energy farms in Cherokee and Etowah counties. Groups opposing the development announced yesterday they had received word Pioneer Green was relinquishing land leases for the projects.
Pioneer Green Energy announced last year it planned to develop wind energy projects in the two counties, and said land leases had already been secured. Five Cherokee County residents filed suit in an attempt to stop the development, and a group of Etowah County residents also filed suit.
Pioneer Green planned a $40 million project with seven to eight turbines in Cherokee County. The larger Etowah County project would have had 30 to 45 turbines costing $160 million.
Stewart said the company was ready to begin construction when the lawsuits were filed, and the legislation passed earlier this year, which established setback and noise standards.
That bill required the state’s Public Safety Commission to oversee wind farms, mandated that noise from the turbines not exceed an average of 50 decibels, and laid out a setback of five times the height of the tower from the base to the nearest property line. Last year, a company official said the legislation was too restrictive by making the property line the threshold and not the nearest residence or structure.
Stewart said much of the opposition was fueled by “hysteria.”
“The bill was basically a moratorium on wind turbine developments,” Stewart said. “The company lost a lot of money, spent a lot of years studying the project, had a lot of studies, and was prepared to go forward. And we were prepared to defend the project through litigation. We think we would have prevailed. They are building these kinds of developments all over the world, except for Alabama.”
Some of the opposition to the project claimed Pioneer Green was pursuing the developments in order to get green energy tax breaks and sell the project off, which might potentially leave idle windmills in the future.
“A company isn’t going to spend $200 million to get a tax credit to walk off and leave rusty windmills,” Stewart said.
Kirk Day, chairman of the Cherokee County Commission, said he had received no official notification from Pioneer Green but noted officials had not heard from the company for some time. The company’s test windmill, near Cherokee Rock Village, was taken down recently, he said.
Shannon Mackey, who was involved in opposition to the projects, said he was sure other potential wind energy developers were not happy with the outcome.
“I think this is a great example of ordinary people with determination and a certain amount of political cooperation successfully standing up to defend their community,” he said.
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