A wind energy company led by a personal friend of President Obama’s has nixed plans to build wind farms in northeast Alabama, according to sources with knowledge of the proposed project.
Green energy companies have long been the beneficiaries of favorable treatment by the federal government. Tax breaks, subsidies, and often a total lack of regulation have given them a leg up on their heavily regulated fossil fuels competitors.
With that in mind, Pioneer Green president Andy Bowman — who is so close to President Obama that he attended his 50th birthday party — earlier this year announced plans to build roughly 40-50 wind turbines in a $200 million development spread between Cherokee and Etowah counties.
Local citizens almost immediately began to speak out against the project and raised concerns to their state senator, Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City). Several local citizens launched an organization called “No Win Alabama” to fight the proposed development.
Sen. Williams began studying wind farms located in other parts of the country. He said found numerous examples of wind energy companies making big promises of jobs and economic development that ultimately never materialized. He specifically noted the Horizon Wind project in Oregon, which received over $11 million in government subsidies but only created thirty-six jobs at a cost to Oregon taxpayers of over $305,000 per job.
Williams also found that that the State of Alabama had no laws on the books to protect citizens and communities when it comes to wind energy production. For instance, while regulations on coal mining require a significant amount of research, proposals, permits, reclamation plans, insurance and numerous other safeguards overseen by independent government entities, wind farms are largely free to do as they please without much oversight to speak of.
Two groups of citizens in Williams’ district filed lawsuits against Pioneer Green asking for a judge to block the proposed project, at least until the state creates a regulatory framework to protect the local community.
A local kindergartner even got almost 1,500 Alabamians to sign a petition encouraging the Alabama legislature to “Say ‘no’ to wind turbines.”
After getting feedback from a wide variety of groups, including the League of Municipalities, Aviation Council, major utility providers, ALFA, the County Commission Association, the Business Council, and even three separate wind energy companies, Williams crafted a statewide bill to address the regulatory concerns.
He was met fierce resistance from green energy company lobbyists in the state house, who successfully killed the bill on the last day of the 2014 legislative session. However, several local bills were passed that required the wind energy companies to submit more detailed proposals and come into compliance with certain standards, like maximum noise levels and minimum setbacks.
The new rules, combined with the public outcry against taxpayer-subsidized wind farms in an area with little wind, apparently proved to be too much for Pioneer Green.
The company has reportedly terminated a lease agreement on just under 2,000 acres of property where the wind farms would have been built.
Pioneer Green and its attorneys did not immediately respond to Yellowhammer’s request for comment.
Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims
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