April 22, 2013

Williams' bill would regulate, not eliminate wind turbines in Ala.


CENTRE — A draft bill written earlier this month by the state senator who represents Cherokee County would not deal a death blow to a proposed wind turbine farm on Lookout Mountain, as some here had hoped.

Instead, if the law passes before the state Legislature adjourns next month it will establish rules and regulations for wind projects throughout Alabama.

Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, has already met with the Legislative Reference Service to review the bill. Last week, Williams told The Post he plans to introduce the bill—and hopefully pass it—before the 2013 legislative session ends May 20.

“Several aspects of my draft bill are already covered under other parts of the state code,” Williams said of the tweaks recommended by the LRS. “But we all agreed that the state agency best suited to supervise this type of project is the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.”

Williams' bill calls for ADEM to establish a permit application process that would have to be completed by any company wishing to build a wind energy project in Alabama. The permit would be both a construction and operation permit.

Williams said he is skeptical of the project proposed for Cherokee County, officially known as the Shinbone Wind Energy Project, mainly because it would exist “in my own backyard.” Overall, however, Williams said he is not opposed to basic idea of the proposal.

“Wind energy is certainly novel to this state, and I'm a ‘drill now’ guy,” Williams said. “But it is okay to pursue alternative energy efforts as long as it happens the right way.”

Williams said he does not believe it is the state government's job to tell private landowners what they can and cannot do on their own property. But Williams said he will do all he can to make sure landowners adjacent to any construction on Lookout Mountain are protected from the same pitfalls that have cropped up at other wind projects around the country.

“This bill was modeled after legislation from New York state that has been touted as a success,” Williams said.

Among the protections listed in Williams' draft are a 750-foot minimum barrier between the base of a wind turbine and the closest existing home; minimum low points for blade tips; anti-climbing devices at the bases of the towers; visible “high voltage” warning signs; and bonding to ensure there is cash on-hand to cover the cost of removing any turbines that are abandoned or become inoperable.

“Abandonment and not maintaining the turbines are two big issues,” Williams said. “Whoever builds and operates the turbines will have to maintain enough cash to be able to tear them down.”

Williams said he understands the frustration some in Cherokee County have with the prospect of a row of 400-foot-tall wind turbines rising along the edge of the mountain above their homes. He urged everyone to voice their opinion.

“Ultimately, it will be up to the community to say if they don't want this,” he said.