By Wayne Ruple –
HEFLIN, Ala. — A proposed windmill “farm” on Turkey Heaven Mountain died recently due to lack of support from Cleburne County commissioners in the face of public opposition.
The County Commission met June 16 and considered four resolutions which would have effectively killed the project. They punted on supporting the proposed wind turbines and decided to contact Republican Governor Robert Bentley, Republican Senator Gerald Dial and Democratic Representative Richard Lindsey with a letter stating that they have withdrawn their support at this time due to “public concerns.”
They will ask Gov. Bentley for a one year moratorium on the erection of wind turbines to give more time for research on the matter, and they pledged not to use imminent domain or condemnation of private property to benefit development of wind power in Cleburne County, leaving the door open for the possibility of this alternative energy source coming to East Alabama in the future.
One of the resolutions would have considered re-routing or closing County Road 852 over Turkey Heaven Mountain to make way for the windmill farm. Another resolution would have placed a moratorium on the development of wind energy in the county.
Cleburne County Commission Ex-Officio Chairman Ryan Robertson called for a motion on each of the resolutions and they died for lack of a motion from any of the three commissioners present – Laura Cobb, Emmett Owen and Bobby Brooks.
Commissioner Benji Langley, whose district includes the Ranburne area, was not present at the afternoon meeting, attended by about 70 concerned county residents.
Earlier this month on June 2, property owners near the proposed site filed a lawsuit seeking a permanent halt to the project.
Companies named in the lawsuit include Oklahoma-based Nations Energy Solutions, Wind Capital Group, which first introduced the idea in Cleburne County, and the owners of property of projected wind turbine sites – James R. Johnson, Fred, Scottie and Carol Kitchens, Carolyn Casey and Johnny and Cheryl Cofield.
The lawsuit claims that the proposed project will destroy scenic areas, lower property values and cause harm to surrounding landowners in the form of low frequency noise, flashing light caused by the blades, wind turbine syndrome and other discomforts.
Attorney Chad Hopper is representing the plaintiffs along with a group of residents in Cherokee County who are opposing Austin, Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy’s efforts to erect wind mills/turbines along Shinbone Ridge there. Hopper has told the press that these are anticipatory lawsuits and noted that his discovery revealed that those planned for the Cherokee County would be among the largest in the nation.
With a major focus on alternative energy sources, companies are coming forward to take advantage of federal financial assistance programs aimed at helping build the new technology.
Presently the only “wind farm” in the Southeast is on Buffalo Mountain Wind Farm in Tennessee and inside the Tennessee Valley Authority’s territory.
In the spring of 2013, out-of-state developers made it public that they had plans to create wind farms in Cherokee, Etowah, Dekalb, and Cleburne counties in Alabama.
The proposed project on Turkey Heaven Mountain includes areas along Cleburne County 852 at an elevation of around 1,500 feet. Nations Energy Solutions developer Robin Saiz has told reporters that NES has been conducting wind tests in the area for the past three years and is considering erecting 30 wind turbines on the mountain.
This activity has also drawn the attention of legislators in Montgomery who, in April of this year, sent two local bills to the state legislature that will regulate the operation, design and location of turbines in Cherokee and Etowah counties. In addition a statewide bill (S.B. 12) introduced by Alabama Republican state Senator Dan Williams of Athens went through the Senate but stalled in the House during the 2014 legislative session. Republican House member Becky Nordgren offered a substitute bill for S.B. 12, but it also failed.
According to the Alabama Conservationist website, “Senate Bills 402 and 403 requiring strict regulations for wind energy conversion systems in Etowah and Cherokee counties passed, eliminating any real chance of wind energy in those two counties.”
Due to the South’s lack of the proper wind resources, the area has been somewhat written off except for a few pockets of available winds which are now beginning to get developer’s attention due to the manufacture of specific wind turbine models to take into account the wind speeds. A general lack of moving air coupled with frequent tornadoes have also kept developers away from the state.
Cleburne County is among several counties within Republican state Senator Gerald Dial’s District 13 and he made a request that Cleburne be exempt from S.B 12, saying it would hurt economic development in the county.
Dial said the process to bring the wind farm to the county had been going on for several years and he told the press that S.B. 12 “would’ve simply stopped the process.” He he told reporters that officials in Cleburne County supported the proposed turbines and the exemptions for the county.
Cleburne County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tanya Maloney was cited as requesting the exemptions for the county.
But even Pioneer development manager Patrick Buckley said he did not think such an arrangement was fair and he told reporters that leaving out one county (Cleburne) sets a bad precedent. But S.B. 12 sponsor Williams said the exemption had support of “all the local governing bodies” in Cleburne.
Under the proposed bill, the Alabama Public Service Commission would develop rules and review applications and plans for proposed wind farms in the state.
Presently wind energy developers must apply and comply with regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service .
A spokesman for Nations Energy Solutions said they believe regulations should come from the local level and that the industry would actually help the county create the regulations.
Pioneer Green Energy has worked for four years doing studies for a project on Shinbone Ridge in Cherokee County and at Noccalula in Etowah County. They are proposing 30-40 turbines on their Etowah County site and eight for their Cherokee site.
Etowah County is supposed to generate 80 megawatts while the Cherokee site would generate 18 megawatts. Tower heights would be 570 feet atop 1,553 feet high ridges. The Cash family, owners of Cash Construction, Asphalt and Concrete in Rome, Georgia and Texas own the land for the proposed Cherokee wind farm.
Five Cherokee County residents along with a group of Etowah County residents have filed suit in an attempt to stop the developments there.
© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.