A wind energy company called Pioneer Green recently announced plans to build eight wind turbines in Cherokee County, Ala. at a new facility called the Shinbone Wind Energy Center. But Pioneer Green is meeting fierce resistance from local citizens and conservative legislators who say they are just another taxpayer subsidized green energy company that won’t be able to deliver on big promises of jobs and increased local tax revenue.
Alabama State Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, said he believes the “driving force behind the introduction of wind energy in Alabama is once again the free-flow of taxpayer funds used to prop up each windmill.”
Williams said the people of Etowah and Cherokee Counties have already heard Pioneer Green touting the massive influx of jobs and tax revenue they will bring with them.
Pioneer Green said in a press release announcing their plan to come to Alabama that “These projects are expected to increase tax revenues and create jobs locally and throughout the state, as well as stimulate new economic activity and spur tourism.”
But Williams said those same promises have proven to be “illusory” in other parts of the country.
“In 2011, the Oregonian newspaper conducted a study to ascertain the validity of similar claims,” he explained. “The combination of state and federal subsidies for the Horizon Wind project in Oregon exceeded $11 million and resulted in just thirty-six jobs – meaning that each job cost the taxpayers of Oregon over $305,000. Other green-energy projects that also received millions of Oregon taxpayer funds were found to have resulted in little to no jobs because the projects failed altogether.”
Williams also expressed concerns that the State of Alabama does not have regulations in place to protect his constituents from the potential dangers that come along with wind farms.
“[T]here is absolutely no regulatory authority in Alabama to protect Alabama citizens and Alabama communities from the proven dangers that can exist in the construction and operation of a wind farm that sprawls for miles with 500-foot towers,” Williams said. “Nothing exists in this state to protect adjacent land owners, to prevent abandonment of these wind sites, to insure liabilities are insured — nothing.”
Williams is advancing legislation this session to address that issue by subjecting so-called green energy companies to the same stringent standards as non-renewables, such as coal. Williams would also like to prevent them from receiving state taxpayer funded subsidies to prop up their operation — forcing them to compete in the free market on the state level.
But Williams cannot do anything about the federal subsidies the Obama Administration is dolling out to favored energy producers.
Solyndra, a California-based solar panel manufacturer, in 2011 became the poster company for the Obama Administration’s green energy policies gone wrong. When the company filed for bankruptcy, it cost the taxpayers upwards of $500 million and over 1,100 employees were laid off. And Solyndra is far from the only one. The Daily Caller reported in 2012 that as many as 50 Obama-backed green energy companies had already gone bankrupt or were in serious trouble.
Pioneer Green’s president, Andy Bowman, has carefully positioned his company to receive favorable treatment from the Obama Administration as well.
Campaign finance disclosures show that Bowman gave the maximum allowed donation to President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2011.
POLITICO identified Bowman as a not only a major donor to the Obama campaign, but also someone close enough to the president’s inner circle that he was allowed to attend the president’s 50th birthday party.
Andy Bowman, the founder and president of Pioneer Green Energy, an Austin, Texas-based wind and solar project development company, donated $5,000 to Obama’s campaign last summer while attending the president’s 50th birthday party in Chicago.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence that there’d be a clear vision about the roles that renewables are going to play; I certainly haven’t heard that from Romney,” Bowman said.
In other words, Solyndra would not have been possible in a Romney Administration. And perhaps Pioneer Green would not have been possible either.
The Production Tax Credit is a federal subsidy that gives a big tax break to companies like Pioneer Green that produce wind energy. Mitt Romney referred to is as a “stimulus boondoggle” and said he would get rid of it. President Obama stood behind it 100 percent.
As Bowman sweated out the 2012 presidential election and the future of his cherished taxpayer-funded subsidies, he noted that “All the projects we’ve been working on for the last three years are hanging in the balance.”
But his bet on Obama paid off. And he has since then set his sites on coming Alabama, where a growing number of green energy groups have started working to push non-renewable sources of energy out.
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“Alabamians should not be expected to ignore the negative experiences of our sister states,” Sen. Williams said in conclusion. “Asking the citizens of this state to self-fund the opportunity to be guinea pigs in a green energy experiment is not reasonable.”
Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims