By Donna Thornton/News Editor
Representatives from Pioneer Green Energy offered a presentation regarding a planned windmill farm program for Etowah County after the Feb. 5 commission meeting, and heard questions from some Lookout Mountain residents about the proposed project.
Pioneer Development Manager Patrick Buckley said the company has been looking at the possibility of a windmill farm for years and doing wind studies in the area for at least four years.
Those studies lead the company to believe creating a farm to produce wind energy that would be sold to suppliers such as Alabama Power and the Tennessee Valley Authority is a viable plan. The proposed farm could generate up to 80 megawatts of energy, Buckley said, and could power 24,000 homes.
During the construction phase, he predicted hundreds of jobs in the area, and between 19 and 30 permanent jobs. Based on a 30-year operation model (based on the lifespan of windmills) Buckley said the project coud generate between $700,000 and $1.4 million in direct taxes per year and have an estimated $2.3 to $3.7 million economic impact each year.
The energy company currently is working on two windmill farms – one called the “Shinbone” project at Cherokee Rock Village in Cherokee County. The “Noccalula” project would be located on top of the same Lookout Mountain ridge in Eto-wah County.
Pioneer Green Energy founder Andy Bowman said the company hopes to begin construction on both projects in late 2013, which would allow it to take advantage of tax credits for alternative energy production.
These would be the first windmill farm projects in the state – something that could create something of a tourist attraction in its own right, Buckley said.
The three-bladed windmills, included the length of the blades, could stand between 350 and 500 feet tall, and would be placed at the highest point on the ridge. According to FFA regulations, there would be blinking red lights on some of the towers for the safety of aircraft in the area.
Several residents from the Lookout Mountain area questioned the visibility of the windmills because, as one resident said, they paid premium for a nice view on Bellevue Avenue. They were concerned that windmills would spoil the view, and had questions also about noise and the expansion of towers beyond the current plan.
Buckley said the Noccalula project would include 25 to 40 turbines, and each would be one-quarter to one-fifth of a mile apart. The nearest residence is 2,000 feet away from the proposed development, he said, which substantially further than the required buffer.
From 2,000 feet away, Buckley said people might be able to hear the turbines at times, and the noise would be similar to that of a refrigerator or dryer in a home.
Buckley said Pioneer plans an “open house” within a couple of months to share more information and the results of ongoing visual, sound and shadow studies, as well as studies of the impact on bats and other birds in the area. He said those studies would include photos of the area, with windmills superimposed to give residents a chance to see what a constructed windmill farm would look like.
Etowah County Commissioner Larry Payne encouraged Pioneer representatives to have a public hearing regarding the project.
The commission does not have any authority to regulate construction of a windmill farm; it is a private business arrangement between landowners and the company.
However, one of those property owners, Steve Shaneyfelt, said he wanted to ensure that local residents are well informed about the plans. He said he lives in Etowah County and wants to be a “good neighbor,” where the project is concerned.