Wind farm project dead; leases with land owners terminated
Credit: By Donna Thornton, Times Staff Writer | The Gadsden Times | August 20, 2014 | www.gadsdentimes.com ~~
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Pioneer Green Energy, the Texas-based company that wanted to put wind turbines along Shinbone Ridge in Etowah and Cherokee County, has abandoned the project because the restrictions imposed by Alabama legislation passed in the last session were “just too restrictive.”
Attorney Charles Stewart, representing Pioneer Green, said the project has been canceled in both Etowah and Cherokee counties. He said after legislation was passed establishing parameters for any wind turbine project, including setback lines and permitting through the Public Service Commission, Pioneer Green had to reevaluate the project.
“They couldn’t make the project work,” Stewart said.
The setback lines – establishing distance between the proposed turbines and other structures or property lines – were “too onerous” for the project to be successful, he said, as was having the PSC as the permitting agency and the time that would require.
Property owners in Etowah and Cherokee counties filed lawsuits to block the turbines.
Michael Lee said the end of the project is a “celebration-type situation.” His property on Owl’s Hollow Road would have been 2,000 feet from a turbine, according to Pioneer Green’s map. When the legislation was passed calling for a 2,000-foot setback from the property line, rather than the structure, it was a real help for him, he said.
Lee said he was relieved at the passage of the legislation, because he thought that might bring the project to an end.
When Pioneer Green’s data collection tower was removed, he said, he really believed the end was in sight.
Ginny Shaver was one of the Cherokee County property owners who filed suit against the project. She said wind turbine No. 1 would have been directly behind the acreage she and her husband have, within site of Cherokee Rock Village. They have a lake fed by an underground spring and they sometimes see bald eagles flying over the lake. She has a photo of one that landed in her yard. She believes installing wind turbines – which would require blasting 50 to 75 feet into the rock – could have damaged the underground aquifers, and the turbines themselves would have been a danger to the eagles and other birds, and the bats that swarm around at night keeping insects away.
Lee said he did extensive research and concluded that would-be wind energy producers are in it for the “staggering amount of tax breaks” they can receive for producing green energy. But the projects end with abandoned turbines and drastically devalued neighboring property.
“I determined I was going to be funding a project with my tax money that was going to be devastating to me,” he said.
Shaver said it was not just individual property owners who stood to lose. Blasting to put in turbines could have damaged the rock face at Cherokee Rock Village, the No. 1 tourist attraction in Cherokee County and one of the top 10 rock climbing destinations in the nation. That would have hurt the county’s economy, she said.
Shaver is pleased with the outcome of the situation. She called it “a big win for the little people, against the big corporations with an unlimited amount of money to fight.”
Lee said some of the property owners were active in the push for legislation, and he was glad to see lawmakers working to help them.
“I would really like to thank the legislative delegation of Etowah and Cherokee counties for unanimously agreeing on the local bills, and especially Becky Nordgren for her work on the statewide bill,” Shaver said. “Under extreme pressure for all sides, she stood up for the people and fought to protect the residents.”
Steward said it was the legislation that brought the project to an end. He said he believes the company would have prevailed in the lawsuits. However, the lawsuits would have delayed progress in the project, and with a $2 million project, he said, investors might want to look for another location.
The leases Pioneer Green had entered with property owners have been terminated, Stewart said. The lawsuit filed by Cherokee County property owners who opposed the project has been dropped by joint stipulation of the parties without prejudice. Stewart said talks are ongoing with attorneys for Etowah County property owners who sued as well, and he expects that lawsuit also to be dismissed.
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