Wind turning heads in Alabama: turbines next?

Photo Courtesy of NREL

Onshore wind power can work and be profitable in Alabama. That’s according to Pioneer Green Energy, the experienced wind energy developer behind the Shinbone Wind Energy Center¬†proposed near Gadsden, in northeastern Alabama. The project will sell 18.4 MW of electric capacity to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), roughly equivalent to 1/2 of the total electricity used by homes in the county where the project is located.

Shinbone wind is estimated to bring in $200,000 to $300,000 a year in tax revenues to Cherokee County, a rural area home to about 26,000 people, 20.8% of whom are below the poverty level (compared to 14.3% nationally and 17.6% in Alabama). On top of that, an economic impact study from Jacksonville State University (download PDF) indicated that the project could draw additional tourist dollars to the area.

It’s an exciting development for a state, and a region, that benefits from wind manufacturing (download fact sheet here). It may also challenge the outdated notion that wind energy is not a viable resource in Alabama.¬†

What’s making the difference? Partially, encouraging results from Pioneer’s on-site wind measurements over the last few years that indicate higher wind speeds than standard models predicted. And additionally, the onward march of wind technology that can now effectively harness the more moderate wind speeds we experience in the southeast. Some of these technological improvements in wind turbines include lighter blades, taller towers, and drivetrain enhancements (e.g. lighter weight gearboxes).

The project will bolster the local economy through tax revenues and construction and operation jobs, while protecting air and water. The community won’t be asked to trade its environmental health for much-needed economic development (learn more about environmental justice). Cherokee County won’t have to make that choice here: unlike coal, wind turbines do not threaten local communities with sulfur dioxide, soot, mercury, and other toxins that damage lungs and brains. Nor do they guzzle water like coal and nuclear plants, which use about 2.5 billion gallons a year of precious surface water in Alabama, according to government data collected by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Wind turbines also emit zero carbon dioxide emissions as they generate electricity.

Of course, it’s important to site any generation facility properly to minimize its impacts on the surrounding area. Pioneer Green Energy is awaiting results of environmental assessments to ensure it doesn’t impact local wildlife, including bats, and is also conducting studies on noise, “flicker” of turbine blade shadows, and a visual representation of how the turbines will look along the ridge, so that nearby residents can understand whether and how the project will affect them.

We’ll keep you updated on this potential game-changer as the studies come in!

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Some things our citizens will have to live with , Deforestation of the mountains, lookout Mtn, shinbone ridge, sand mountain. One Industrial wind turbine disturbed and displaces wildlife. It takes 5acres for one IWT. That doesn’t account for the blasting ,which can disturbe the bedrock, this area and people depend on underground springs and wells for their water supply .some of the purist water in Alabama. Where will the animals go? Deer Coyotes, Mtn lions, bobcats, on a smaller scale squirrels chipmunks, one of the major concerns is the our protected birds of prey . We can’t afford to lose one and Industrial Wind Turbines Notoriously kill these birds. Next wind is not viable in Alabama. The homes in this area wouldn’t not benefit. The Turbine would be tied in to a grid and the grid would go to a substation . The problam is that the windturbinetruth does not generate viable energy when needed. Calls itself green but has large lasting footprint!

Comment by Deborah Stowe on June 2, 2013 1:35 am

Deborah, a wind farm has been operating on Buffalo Mountain in Tennessee for nearly a decade without the degree of negative side effects you speak of. Wind farms were the top new power plant resource installed in the US last year – in part because wind energy is one of the cheapest sources of electricity generation. If wind energy isn’t profitable, companies wouldn’t be looking to develop them – they’re profitable because they do supply “viable energy”. Would you rather have a coal mine in your backyard? You’ve got to get electricity from somewhere – and wind is one of the most environmentally benign sources, especially when compared to the alternatives.

Comment by Simon Mahan on June 3, 2013 2:58 pm

Mr. Mahan, I’d like to recommend that you do some homework, especially the WSJ article listed at the end of this piece from the CEO of a Wind Company. Industrial Wind Projects are never able to provide base load and do not have a sustainable financial model. I disagree with your comments that they are profitable, cheap and viable. The reason these Industrial Wind Turbines are being developed is because of US Government Grants, Subsidies and Tax Credits. Follow the Money Trail! It comes from YOUR pocket, assuming you’re an American Taxpayer. None of your statements are true without the excessive amounts of money being taken from the taxpayers.

Other countries, like the UK have a decade of experience and call this a ‘Scam’. We should learn from their experience and our own mistakes: The U.S. has thousands of abandoned wind turbines from the 70′s + 80′s due to similar mandates and subsidies that were unsustainable . Google ‘Abandoned Wind Turbines’. The WSJ article below is written by a CEO of a Wind Company in Texas who can help you ‘Follow the Money’. Keep in mind, this is from someone IN the Industry. I hope you find this enlightening.

Comment by Pam Vias on June 3, 2013 11:31 pm

Pam, considering I’ve been working on wind energy issues for the greater part a decade, I’ve certainly done my homework. However, if you begin your homework by doing a rudimentary google search for “insert bad thing here”, you’re already starting off from a biased and unfair position. It’s pretty clear you arrived at a conclusion before conducting real research. Your electricity has to come from somewhere, which resources do you propose we use?

All sources of energy production receive subsidies – wind isn’t unique. Wind farms can receive a tax credit – just like other businesses or even individuals. By your opinion, if anyone claims any tax credit on their income taxes then they don’t have a “sustainable financial model”.

Wind is cheap – Alabama Power recently bought 404 megawatts of wind energy from Oklahoma and Kansas stating that it was the CHEAPEST resource they could get. Georgia Power recently made a similar announcement for 250 megawatts of wind energy. Iowa, which gets about 20% of its electricity from wind, residents pays LOWER rates than most of us here in the south!

The UK is not anti-wind – it’s planning on meeting its 30% renewable energy goal by 2020 mostly with wind energy. If you do basic research on the UK, you see they call wind projects “schemes” – but they don’t mean this in the way you mean “scam”. If you do beyond basic research, you’d find it’s their parlance – not a commentary on wind’s usefulness as you wrongly assert. Many countries in Europe have a 20-30% goal for wind power in the 2030 timeframe.

The notion that there are thousands of wind turbines abandoned “somewhere” is false and has been proven to be a product of – you guessed it – poor research.

Ignoring the benefits of wind energy because it’s not “baseload power” is just as silly as ignoring freight trains because they don’t fly like jets. Wind provides substantial amounts of low-cost power – you use it when you can (low cost, like freight trains) . When you can’t use it, you use the high-cost option (high cost, like jets).

Plenty of companies recognize the benefits of wind energy. The Honest Tea Co. (, Ben & Jerry’s (, and Starbucks ( are just a few companies that support wind power.

That WSJ article is a shill piece for the natural gas industry – it’s not representative of the wind industry. I’ve never even heard of “Tang Energy” – the guy who wrote it builds natural gas power plants and ignores the fact that wind installations outnumbered natural gas installations last year. WSJ is notoriously pro-fossil fuels and anti-renewable energy – hardly an unbiased source.

Comment by Simon Mahan on June 4, 2013 9:28 pm

Despite all the research provided in the previous post, not a single link has been clicked on as of 8/20/13.

Comment by Simon Mahan on August 20, 2013 9:09 pm

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