Oct. 1, 2012

Parks Board apparently votes to join wind turbine project


Update: On Monday afternoon The Post learned that lawyers for both the Parks and Rec. Board and Pioneer Green Energy have revisited the events surrounding the vote on Sept. 26 and now consider the 2-1 tally, with two non-votes (as opposed to official abstentions) to be legal and binding. We'll have more about the Shinbone Ridge Energy Project in the Oct. 8 issue of The Post.

CENTRE — The Cherokee County Parks and Recreation Board (PRB) stands to earn up to $300,000 a year for 30 years for the county if its members approve a plan to join an existing project to construct a series of wind turbines along a ridge near Cherokee Rock Village.

Depending on who you ask, they have already done so.

The PRB voted 2-1 last week to accept a $15.9 million plan -- known internally as the Shinbone Ridge Energy Project -- from a company already working on its intermediate stages. If the plan is realized, Pioneer Green Energy of Austin, Texas would construct 8-10 turbines along the mountain above Leesburg that would generate nearly 20 megawatts of electricity for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

If constructed, the wind turbine farm would be the first of its kind in Alabama, proponents claim.

“It's a win-win,” said PRB member Virgil Adcock after the unusual vote, which included two abstentions from the five members of the board. “There's no way to lose with this kind of thing.”

Adcock and Gary Banister voted for the project, while PRB Chairman Scooter Howell voted against it. Board members Henry Wright and Daphne Rogers abstained.

Howell said he believed the Board should not accept the plan until after conducting additional negotiations with Pioneer Green.

“I can't vote for it right now,” Howell said just before the vote. “I think we need to talk some more.”

Rogers, who takes the minutes, confirmed that the motion passed.

“The count was two for and one against,” she said. “So legally, the vote did pass by a majority.”

But after the meeting there was confusion among the Board members over whether or not the vote was binding since two members who were present at the meeting were recorded as not voting. The question was still unresolved as The Post went to press Friday afternoon. (Check our website for updates as the story develops.)

Before the vote, Pioneer Green Energy representative David Savage presented a slideshow to members of the PRB and outlined a plan to construct the turbines over a period of 2-4 months. He said construction will not begin until a TVA evaluation study is complete sometime next summer, at the earliest. TVA has already agreed to purchase power generated from the turbines for 20 years if they are erected.

Savage said the project could be completed as early as December 2013 if there are no major roadblocks as development continues.

According to an economic impact study conducted by Jacksonville State University, the project would create eight permanent jobs in Cherokee County and generate an annual increase of $285,000 to $300,000 in county tax revenues. The study also estimates an annual increase of $740,500 in economic activity.

The project calls for all but one of the 500-ft. turbines to be placed on private property southwest of Cherokee Rock Village—a plan that will proceed regardless of the PRB's decision, Savage told The Post.

“We would continue with the project to see if it works out, but we certainly believe the Park Board would benefit from joining in,” Savage said Friday. “I heard the vote and heard it approved, and I would be very surprised if there is any question about it.”

Savage also confirmed that the contract was signed at the conclusion of the meeting and a check for $5,000—a previously agreed-upon initial payment—presented to the PRB.

Savage's presentation called for an additional turbine that could be placed on park property, thus generating long-term income for the county. But that decision may have to be made again at a future meeting, depending on the official ruling regarding Wednesday's vote.

Probate Judge Melvyn Salter said he believes the PRB—a stand-alone entity with broad discretion regarding all aspects of the county's park system—should let the people of Cherokee County have a say before giving the go-ahead on a project of this scope.

“I asked them to hold a public hearing before they voted,” Salter said. “I think the people ought to have an opportunity to hear about it before it becomes final.”