What’s Up with Wind Energy in Alabama?

X Marks the Spot for Wind Energy

Alabama has become a hotbed of wind energy activity. At least four different wind farms have been proposed across the Yellowhammer State – from upstate, mid-state and downstate Alabama. Alabama Power is buying 404 megawatts of wind energy from the Plains (enough to supply 3% of the company’s power), and the state’s biggest power company just erected a tiny 4 kilowatt turbine on its headquarters building in Birmingham. The flurry of activity has some people asking, “Why?” Here’s just a few reasons that may help explain the interest.

State electric costs are high. As of 2011, Alabama residents pay the highest average utility bills in the contiguous 48 states (Hawaii residents have the highest utility bills – in part because they import 94% of their fuel). Alabama’s average utility rates are the second highest in the South (Florida’s rates are higher, but Floridians electric bills are about 10% lower than Alabama residents). When costs are high, low-cost wind energy becomes extremely attractive. When Alabama Power recently announced it would be receiving electricity from out-of-state wind farms, the Alabama Public Service Commission stated that the “price of energy from the wind facility is expected to be lower than the cost the company would incur to produce that energy from its own resource…with the resulting energy savings flowing directly to the Company’s customers.”

The wind is better than estimated. If you go through the history of wind resource maps developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, they start as far back as the 1980s. While government wind maps have gotten better over thirty years, they still don’t tell the full story. For the longest time, Alabama and the rest of the region haven’t been prioritized for wind resource assessments; but now that wind turbines have advanced by leaps and bounds, wind farm developers are taking note of the region and collecting actual measurements on-the-ground to identify the region’s best wind resources. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the wind resources are better than estimated – especially on ridge tops and coastal areas.

Published in 1980, 2005 and 2011, respectively

Alabama’s Pro-Business. The South has a long history of being pro-business, pro-jobs and pro-development. Last year, Alabama wound up as one of the Top 10 “Pro-Business” States in the country. This year, the state is in the Top 5. The state is also fiercely protective and respecting of private property rights. Article I, Section 35 of the state’s constitution states “That the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression.” Any government bureaucrat or politician looking to restrict a private industry on private property could risk treading on the state’s constitution – and their constituents are watching.

Wind turbines have dramatically improved. Wind turbines are getting taller, and blades are getting longer. New hardware and software is making wind turbines cheaper, and more effective at capturing more moderate wind speeds, like those that exist throughout the South. Better turbines make it almost inevitable that wind farms will be developed in the South.

Wind energy costs are predictable. Wind farms have low operational costs and no fuel costs, unlike coal, natural gas or nuclear power plants. As such, the cost of energy from wind farms is predictable and stable over the lifetime of a wind project, which may reach 25 or 30 years. With the risk of additional regulation on coal-fired power plants, and price volatility of natural gas, wind energy is an attractive addition to a utility’s portfolio. In 2010, about 40% of Alabama’s electricity came from coal-fired power plants (and a portion of that coal came from the country of Colombia), and another 25% came from natural gas. A diverse utility portfolio is a safer, smarter one.

 If you’re interested in promoting wind energy in Alabama, and across the South, contact your elected officials today. 

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Alabama Wind Energy Conversion Act, Senate Bill 12/HB 106 – This is not saying Wind Projects do not need regulating. It is saying these bills are not about regulation, they are about killing an industry for the benefit of mega power corporations, dirty energy and deadly-expensive nuclear power

After reading the bill it becomes obvious this bill is designed not to protect people but large corporate power industries in Alabama; it protects fossil fuel burners and nuclear power. This bill would have zero effect on the TVA but prevent individuals from erecting wind turbine power generation in the TVA area. It has a negative effect on production and construction of this power source and its deployment in Alabama, thus a negative effect on jobs in Alabama.

Both Bills would cause an increase in costs for Alabama Power Customers due to the ridiculous requirements contained within the bill. It kills wind energy generation and jobs that would be associated with this industry.

Section 8 (i) The noise levels measured at the property line of the property on which the system has been installed shall not exceed 40 decibels. (Geez, the purpose of this bill should be obvious! It is not to support lower energy bills nor clean energy. The authors expect wind turbines to be quitter than a bird chirping or a public library?)

Everyday sounds greater than 40 decibels

Garbage disposal, dishwasher, average factory, freight train (at 15 meters); Car wash at 20 ft (89 dB); propeller plane flyover at 1000 ft (88 dB); diesel truck 40 mph at 50 ft (84 dB); diesel train at 45 mph at 100 ft (83 dB). Food blender (88 dB); milling machine (85 dB); garbage disposal (80 dB).

Passenger car at 65 mph at 25 ft (77 dB); freeway at 50 ft from pavement edge 10 a.m. (76 dB). Living room music (76 dB); radio or TV-audio, vacuum cleaner (70 dB).

Conversation in restaurant, office, background music, Air conditioning unit at 100 ft (60dB)

Quiet suburb, conversation at home. Large electrical transformers at 100 ft (50dB).

Library, bird calls (44 dB); lowest limit of urban ambient sound (40dB)

Section 9. A wind energy conversion system or tower that does not operate continuously for 365 consecutive days may be deemed abandoned and shall be removed by the operator of the system. (I will not comment on this stupid requirement.)

Comment by Garry Morgan on February 17, 2014 4:32 pm

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