By Donna Thornton/News Editor
The house was open for wind farm discussion April 13, but for many gathered there, the minds may not have been.
Pioneer Green Energy, a company proposing a 40 wind turbine development about seven miles north of Noccalula Falls on Lookout Mountain, hosted an open house and provided information sheets, answers to questions, pastries, tote bags and ink pens to those who visited.
There were some protestors who placed signs outside the courthouse, and wore ribbons with “No Wind Farms” inked on them. Etowah and Cherokee residents attended.
People were speaking with the representatives of Pioneer Green, who manned tables set up with displays in information sheets about various aspects of the project, such as the economic impact, the effect on birds, the sound generated by wind turbines, etc.
Owl’s Hollow Road resident Leonard Glenn said he opposed the wind farm and heard nothing at the open house to change is mind. He said most of his family lives in the area and the proposed turbines would be “right over me.”
“They can’t tell me there won’t be vibration and noise from that many of them,” Glenn said. “I don’t care anything about seeing those things every time I run up and down (U.S.411).”
Jewel Garrard, who also lives on Owl’s Hollow Road, said Pioneer Green representatives had answered many of her questions, but she still wanted information about how the turbines would be put into place on the mountain. “There’s a lot of rock. I want to know if they will do a lot of blasting,” she said.
There were people present who favored the project, looking forward to the potential growth for the county.
The Etowah County Commission has discussed the project, even though the commission has no authority to regulate or approve it.
State Sen. Phil Williams said he plans to introduce state-wide legislation set some parameters for wind farms, addressing noise concerns, easements and distance from homes and other property.
Williams’ proposed legislation would set bond requirements so that if the wind farm was abandoned, the bond could be used for dismantle it. The legislation would require that the project get permits from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management before construction.
Williams said he’d researched wind farms, and found that over the years the success rate is about 50-50 with them. He said he’s skeptical, and feels legislation is needed statewide because there is discussion of wind farms not only in Etowah County and in Cherokee County, along the same mountain ridge, but in St. Clair and Baldwin counties as well.
Among those brought to Gadsden for the Saturday morning meeting, and an afternoon session in Cherokee County, was Sheldon, N.Y. Township Supervisor John Knab. A group from Etowah and Cherokee counties went to Sheldon recently to look at a wind farm there, developed and operated by Invenergen.
Knab said despite heavy opposition in the dairy farming community when the wind farm was proposed, it has been a boon to the town. The township and the school system reaped tax rewards, the company has paid about a half-million dollars to rebuild roads, $95,000 to renovate a historic school building, $20,000 for a walking path at the town park and other contributions.
Because of the wind farm, no landowners pay town property tax, Knab said. There was plenty of opposition initially. Knab said public attendance at township meetings went fro two people to 200 during that time.
Since then, Knab said he’s been reelected by a 2-1 margin in seven subsequent elections.
“Invenergen catered to the landowners,” he said, putting access roads and towers where the property owners preferred.
“It came at a really great time,” Knab said, for the dairy-farming town. “Milk prices had bottomed out.”
After the wind farm was developed, some of the local dairy farmers were able to buy new pickups, new equipment and the town’s two feed mills reported their accounts payable looked a lot better.
Knab said property values had increased in the area, and he has people calling to ask about available property in the township.