Alabama bureaucrats kill domestic energy jobs

Existing transmission infrastructure on Shinbone Ridge could have been used for wind energy.

Officials are confirming that two wind farm proposals in Alabama will not be moving forward. That means Cherokee and Etowah counties will forego about $27-$43 million in combined new tax revenues – revenue that could have been used to build a new park near Weiss Lake improve the quality of the lake, provide education scholarships for high school graduates, create a new tourism niche, or reduce local taxes. According to studies by Jacksonville State University, the Shinbone and Noccalula wind projects would have created about 350-490 full time equivalent construction jobs, and about 36 to 53 permanent jobs for the projects’ expected 30 year lifespans.

Even though the announcement of these wind farms’ abandonment is just now being published, the reality is that they died in early March. That’s when the state legislature passed two local bills specifically designed to kill wind energy in Cherokee and Etowah counties.

The new regulations established impossible limitations for wind farm development, including a 40 decibel sound limit (which is quieter than the wind itself, without a wind turbine, and far more onerous than the Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary limit of 55 decibels). Etowah County, which boasts that its minimalistic regulations bolster economic development, has its own sound decibel regulation of 75 decibels.

The anti-wind local bills also include a nearly quarter-mile “set back” limit from a property line. A landowner would have to own at least 600 acres of land before he could be permitted to construct a single wind turbine on his property. Meanwhile, a coal mine can be permitted as close as 300 feet away from a home, church, park or any other public building. Of the few environmental regulations that do apply in Etowah County, very few if any would apply to a wind farm simply because wind farms emit no air pollution (thus do not need an air permit), discharge no wastewater (thus do not need a State Indirect Discharge Permit), create little to no stormwater runoff, and emit no hazardous waste. Simply put, if the Shinbone or Noccalula wind farms were actually a coal mine, they could have been operational by now.

The wind farm ban, disguised as regulation, was heavily lobbied for by a local anti-wind farm activist group. No Wind Alabama began with a false premise that “no wind” exists in Alabama for wind farm development, despite the fact that updated estimates using modern wind turbine technology prove Alabama has a good wind energy resource. The small but vocal group borrowed tactics from national anti-wind activist groups, citing long debunked myths about wind farms and spinning wind turbine blades.

No Wind Alabama’s stance is contradictory: if no wind exists in the state, wind turbines would not spin and virtually none of the supposed negativities of a wind project would occur. No regulations would be necessary. In an attempt to address this clear conflict of facts, No Wind Alabama invented a conspiracy. The conspiracy is that wind turbines that produce zero energy receive enough in federal subsidies to be a lucrative business opportunity. Two problems exist for this conspiracy. First, the primary incentive for wind farms is the production tax credit (PTC). The PTC is based solely off the number of kilowatt hours of electricity actually generated by a wind farm: again, a wind turbine would have to spin for the developer to receive this tax credit. The second problem with this conspiracy is that the federal incentives for wind energy expired on December 31, 2013 for projects that had not begun constructionIgnoring reality, the anti-wind activists cited blogs and opinions, used outdated information and overstated the negativities while ignoring the benefits of wind energy. The state of Alabama provides no incentive specifically for wind energy.

To continue the coal mine comparison, meanwhile, the coal industry enjoys a permanent, state paid-for production tax credit, among other subsidies.

What could have been: the South's lone wind farm, Buffalo Mountain (TN), provides a visual reference for what Alabama's wind farms could have looked like.

Local anti-wind activists also launched a lawsuit against the proposed wind farms. The Alabama anti-wind lawsuit was heavily plagiarized from a 2005 Texas lawsuit against a wind farm that ultimately lost in four separate court cases. Perhaps recognizing the lawsuit as a losing strategy, the anti-wind activists decided to turn state over-regulation into a weapon against wind farms. Ultimately, the over-regulation did the trick: wind farms are now effectively banned in Cherokee and Etowah counties.

Alabama is a state that prides itself on its pro-business attitude, low regulatory requirements, and property rights. Yet wind energy, which could be providing jobs and tax revenue with very low environmental impacts for landowners who choose it, is now likely the most onerously regulated industry in the state… much to the benefit of the coal industry.

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It’s not surprizing that Alabama does not want renewable energy. It is a state that has proven its alignment with historically “conservative values”. Even if that mean lagging behind the rest of the nation. I suppose there are entrenched folks who are against anything that appears to be crunchy granola (perception that wind energy is just a liberal idea). Though if they checked, they would see that Texas is an economic success story for wind energy. Last I checked Texas was a very conservative oil and gas state & #1 in wind energy. I guess Alabama is destined to always be behind the times…. Maybe in 20 years they will change…..maybe not…..

Comment by John in Iowa on August 21, 2014 4:01 pm

Comparing wind in Texas or Iowa to wind in Alabama is like apples to oranges. Low wind states such as Alabama could never compare to the economic feasibility of the windy states. IWT’S would cost more to build and to maintain and have a very low capacity factor . 60 Wind Turbines 570′ Ft tall on a ridge line with roads connecting each one would have a very large footprint. Buzzcutting and blasting miles of forest for concrete and steel with blades the length of of football field is not environmental friendly in a rural setting. Wind developers destroying the very things they claim to want to save doesn’t make sense.

Comment by Nadia on August 22, 2014 1:38 am

Thank you for your comment. I agree, there is a difference between comparing the biggest wind energy market in the country (Texas) to really any other state – Texas even has a bigger wind energy market than most countries. But to suggest that because Texas’ market is so large, that there is no opportunity for Alabama is wrong. That’d be like saying that because Florida’s beaches are so good, that no other beaches exist.

New research from the Department of Energy proves that Alabama has over 5,000 megawatts of wind energy potential with new turbine technology with capacity factors of 40% or greater. If developed, that amount of wind power in Alabama could power approximately 1.5 million homes. At a cost of approximately $2 million per megawatt, Alabama’s wind opportunity represents an approximately $10 billion opportunity.

Weiss Lake (a manmade, hydropower lake) encompasses at least 30,200 acres – that’s about 22,800 football fields in total area (not just length). Just imagine how many trees and homes had to be cut down or eliminated for the concrete and steel dam. The Weiss Lake power station has a total capacity of 88 megawatts, so it uses 343 acres of land per megawatt of capacity (30,200 acres / 88 megawatts). Comparatively, the total amount of land disrupted by wind energy runs around 2-4 acres per megawatt of wind energy capacity (1 to 1.7 hectares). The nearly 100 megawatts of wind farm capacity proposed near Weiss Lake would have required around 200-400 acres of land, total. (pg. 12)

All energy choices have some impact on the environment. Wind energy is one of the most environmentally friendly power resources available. Chastising wind energy while ignoring other energy resource impacts doesn’t make sense.

Comment by Simon Mahan on August 22, 2014 10:10 am

The destruction of our mountain ridges in Etowah and Cherokee county for monstrous wind turbines can NEVER be undone…Weiss lake attracts thousands of fishermen from around the state, which promotes tourism….Wind turbines would have destroyed Cherokee Rock Village and Noccalula Falls which draws visitors from all over the USA..NO ONE WOULD VISIT A WIND TURBINE FARM FOR ITS BEAUTY…BECAUSE YOU DESTROYED ALL OF THAT.

Comment by Patsy Whitehead on August 22, 2014 11:43 am

Not a single turbine would have been placed on Cherokee Rock Village and you probably wouldn’t have even been able to see the turbines from the park. Weiss Lake could have been improved had the wind farm been built.

Turbines are tourist attractions, too.

The part of Shinbone ridge the turbines were proposed for was on private property, not public lands.

Comment by Simon Mahan on August 22, 2014 12:43 pm

We see this type of anti progressive technology to the development of alternative technologies often tied to conservative positions or in support of existing technologies such as coal, oil and natural gas. Considering the sad state of our world ecology, we see it surprises me to see support of the same resistant attitude when it comes to excessive harvesting of the oceans, excessive use of pesticides, resistance to reducing air pollution and other areas.

At some point, if we do not adjust to the changing needs of humanity in the 21st century, this attitude will lead to the end of life on Earth as we know it. Technology developed in the last 200 years is inadequate to provide for the clean air and water, and amount of food required to sustain humans on this planet. This is not a political issue, this is not a religious issue, this is not even a jobs issue, development of alternative and cleaner technologies for energy, transportation, manufacturing and food production is a human survival issue.

Nearly all of these anti-progressive and oppositional campaigns are funded by large corporate interests who simply want to kill competition, want to maintain their monopolies and remain in control of distribution of there products, goods or services. I hope as American citizens we can wake up to reality before it is too late.

Comment by Steven on August 22, 2014 2:08 pm

This is very disappointing news, I live in Alabama, and it saddens me that our legislators are against creating these jobs, and being ahead of the curve by supporting renewable energy. I hope that they will eventually come to their senses.

Comment by Cynthia Kelly on August 22, 2014 8:14 pm

IWT’S in Alabama is not about saving the planet it’s about Green Greed. We in Alabama have done the research. To label us as anti progressive because we don’t want the land destroyed is ridiculous. The article uses the same wind spill or Spin that we have heard over and over. We don’t need your help to “See the Light” .

Comment by Nadia on August 23, 2014 12:30 am

Would the author of this article support the windmill project if it was within shouting distance of her home/backyard? My guess is probably not, but even if she did, I believe she would regret it during construction and long-term. You could still support wind energy, but she might conclude there would be better places on this vast earth to locate jumbo jet windmills rather than close to people’s homes.

Comment by Bob on August 23, 2014 4:16 pm

Nadia’s comment is a perfect example of the hypocrisy and conspiracy running rampant in the anti-wind activist mob in Alabama. To them, it’s “greedy” for wind energy companies to not want to be banned in the state, while it’s perfectly fine for other energy resources in the state to continually receive state-backed tax credits. It’s clear they’ve only researched one-side of the issue and have an agenda to push.

Comment by Simon Mahan on August 26, 2014 1:16 pm

Hi Bob,
Thanks for your question. I’ve visited a wind farm under construction in the mountains of West Virginia and can say with some confidence that I’d welcome one as a neighbor. The construction process is quick, usually about 6 months, and the sound from the turbines was barely audible over background sounds even standing right next to it. And I would certainly much rather have a wind farm nearby than a coal mine.

Comment by Amelia Shenstone on August 26, 2014 2:36 pm

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