By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, April 1, the Alabama House of Representatives voted to carry over a bill to provide oversight and regulation over controversial new wind farms that are being built across the state starting in Etowah and Cherokee Counties.
Senator Phil Williams (R) from Rainbow City is the Sponsor of Senate Bill 12, but it was carried in the Alabama House by Rep. Becky Nordgren (R) from Gadsden. One version of SB 12 was passed by the Senate. A second version was passed after negotiations between Sen. Williams and stakeholders in the House Committee. A third version of the bill was introduced on the floor by Nordgren.
Rep. Nordgren said that her bill, H.B. 106, never got on the agenda in committee and she was not invited to the negotiations. She lives on Shinbone Ridge in Etowah County where the wind turbines are located and the Committee version of the legislation would not have prevented the Turbines from being built in her neighborhood, but her substitute bill would.
Nordgren said that out of state wind energy companies were looking at siting wind turbine projects in 8 Alabama counties. Nordgren said that the 350 foot tall (500 foot with the blades) wind turbines on tops of ridges and mountains would be unsightly, would lower property values, become a potential danger, and would kill thousands of birds annually.
Rep. Patricia Todd (D) from Birmingham said that we don’t seem concerned when coal pollutes the air, the water, and blows up whole mountains.
Rep. Nordgren said, “We have coal we don’t have wind in Alabama.” When there is not enough wind to turn the blades, the turbines use dirty energy motors to turn the blades. TVA put wind turbines on a mountain and found that they were not cost effective as a source of power.
Rep. Todd said. “I don’t mind the regulation. If they are coming in they should be regulated.”
Many legislators were angry with the substitution and asked that SB 12 be carried over. The first attempt by Rep. Jack Williams (R) from Vestavia narrowly failed. An hour later a second attempt by Rep. Paul Beckman (R) was successful
Rep. Mack Butler said on Facebook later, “SB 12 which would regulate wind mills has been carried over. Thankfully, we do have the local bill already passed.”
In the House committee, which was also covered in detail by the Alabama Political Reporter. Sen. Phil Williams introduced kindergarten anti wind turbine activist and kindergarten student Lily Coker. Coker and her mom has started a petition drive to oppose the proposed wind farms. Coker said, “I started a petition to stop a wind mill farm from being put on the mountain where it is close to my daddy.” Sen. Williams said that Coker’s father is dead. Her and her mom like to hike in the ridges and hills of the southern Appalachians (ridges that Pioneer Energy wants to mount large wind turbines on top of.)
Coker’s mom said that Lily started the petitions it was her idea. “I started the online petition.” The Cokers presented 1261 signatures opposing wind farms and supporting SB 12.
Rep. Jack Williams asked Coker, “What does your teacher thing about you being down here?”
Lily Coker answered. “I have not told her yet.”
House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D) from Gadsden Congratulated Coker said, “Your school is right near where I live.” Ford then awarded her a state of Alabama flag.
Sen. Williams said that these wind farms are being proposed, “For an area represented by myself, Rep. Ford, Sen. Dial, Rep. Nordgren, and Rep. Lindsey.” Sen. Williams said that Etowah and Cherokee County are important rock climbing areas.
Williams said that a company named Pioneer Green has begun planning wind farms and my “Phone began burning up.” Residents are filing class action lawsuits and whole school buses full of residents were prepared to come to the public hearing.
Williams acknowledged that the Pioneer Green Company have the right to do what they want on their own land; but said that the wind farms are nuisances. The neighbor do have something to say about it.
Sen. Williams said that he began researching Alabama regulations on wind farms. “What I quickly found out is that there is zero laws and regulations regulating wind farms in Alabama.” Nuclear power plants, coal power plants, and natural gas power are all regulated by the state of Alabama. The state has nothing on wind farms. Williams said that he spent a year and a half doing research on wind farms. Sen. Williams said, “Some wind farms work but not at the expense of our citizens.” Williams warned that the big wind turbines can throw debris and ice for over a quarter of a mile. “When they go bad they go bad.” Williams showed video of a wind turbine breaking apart in high winds and slinging one of those large blades a sizable distance through the air.
Rep. Richard Lindsey (D) said that he had visited an abandoned wind farm while in Hawaii
Rep. Jack Williams said that SB 12 has passed the Senate and since then more negotiations have gone on.
Sen. Williams said that there is a great deal of input here. The bill has input from Alabama Power, aviation, electric cooperatives, etc. “If they want to come here and compete with coal and gas jobs they need to go before the Public Service Commission like everybody else.” Williams said, “This will supersede our local bill. I think this is a lot stronger than our local bill.”
Rep. Ford asked the lobbyist hired by Pioneer Green, “Were you involved with the negotiations. You are ok with the bill?”
The lobbyist said, “We do have some issues with it and have requested some amendments.” They cancelled the public hearing because they did not think the public hearing was necessary.
Rep Baughn said that the Obama administration has spent $8.4 billion on tax credits. The subsidies became available after 2009. Baughn asked if the wind farms would be cost effective without the subsidies?
Rep. Mack Butler (R) from Rainbow City offered a substitute bill. It was adopted by the Committee without opposition.
Sen. Phil Williams said that under SB 11 public hearings will be held at the Public Service Commission (PSC) for each wind farm project. The substitute of SB 11 clarifies the definition of abandoned wind farm
Rep. Jack Williams said, “Thank you Sen. Williams for your work on this project.”
Rep. Ford asked the Pioneer lobbyist if passage of this legislation would hinder their work.
The lobbyist said it would hinder our ability to develop projects in Cherokee and Etowah County. I am not sure if it would prevent them from being built.
Sen. Phil Williams said that noise standards for the turbines need to be developed. Williams warned that Pioneer is looking at these projects in eight different Alabama Counties.
Now that the full House has carried over SB 12 it appears that this legislation is dead for this legislative session unless it is brought back today or tomorrow.
Rep. Butler said, “My guess is that it (SB 12) is (dead). We have tomorrow and Thursday and wow was it controversial today. Becky did an amazing job but there was still much opposition.