Last week SB12 passed the Senate with a vote of 24-6. As we mentioned last week, the substitute bill that passed included several positive changes. The original bill required strict ordinances for noise (limited to 40 decibels at property’s edge) and distance (2500 feet) from neighboring properties. The bill in its final version requires noise levels be limited to 50 decibels, and the setback is now based on the height of the system, 5x the height of the system from its center to the edge of the residential or commercial building. Neighboring properties are also allowed in this bill to waive those setbacks. Also of note is that Cleburne County is exempted from the bill’s provisions.
While these requirements are still higher than most neighboring states, Conservation Alabama was pleased with the progress that was made in the bill’s amendments. In its original form, SB12 would have prevented wind power in the state of Alabama. With the amendments presented, many wind companies say they can enter Alabama to provide clean, sustainable wind energy to the region. The bill will now go to the House, and Conservation Alabama will request that provisions also be added for wildlife protections where bird and other wildlife habitat could be at risk.
In addition to the passing of SB12, two local bills were introduced last week to regulate Wind Energy Conversion Systems in Etowah and Cherokee Counties. SB402 and SB403, both introduced by Senator Williams, require similar restrictions to SB12 in its original form, including noise levels no higher than 40 decibels and setbacks of 2500 feet. If passed, these bills would basically mean no wind power would be possible in these two counties.
HB475, a bill that would restrict local governments’ ability to control pollution into nearby waterways, made its way to the House Commerce Committee last week and could now make its way to the House floor for a vote. Conservation Alabama recently sent an action alert on behalf of Alabama Rivers Alliance and the Alabama Stormwater Partnership to oppose this bill. Please visit our action page to ask your Representative to vote NO on HB475.
Wednesday, two-conservation related bills received favorable reports from their respective committees. On the positive side, HB292 (Rep. Allan Baker, Brewton) would remove the 90-day default approval of solid waste landfills. HB292 passed with 12 favorable votes from the House County and Municipal Government committee with two positive changes for the solid waste landfill permitting process. Instead of an automatic approval of plans after 90 days, this bill would change the default approval to default denial after 120 days. The bill also requires the applicant to provide fact-based information supporting their proposal both to the public and to the governmental authority responsible for permitting. However, Wednesday’s substitute would only address new permits or facilities.
Also on Wednesday was a public hearing and vote on SB12 [Sen. Phil Williams, Rainbow City] the Wind Energy Conversion Act. Your voices were heard after more than 200 of you sent action alerts to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and several changes were made to the bill before it advanced. The substitute bill did away with zoning and exempts systems where the consumer uses 90 percent of the power provided. The substitute bill advanced from committee and is now in position to be debated on the Senate floor.
Despite the changes, Senate Bill 12 still imposes strict regulations for noise and distance from neighboring properties, both well above standards in nearby states such as Georgia and Tennessee. Negotiations continue between all interested parties. Keep up the pressure and tell your senator that you support wind energy in Alabama.
At the end of this week the legislature will be halfway through the 2014 session.
Fall is a time to celebrate the change in seasons. We’ve certainly undergone many changes as an organization this year. We began the year with a huge legislative victory in Birmingham: the passing of a new urban agriculture ordinance. Before the city council approved a permitting process, any form of urban agriculture was technically illegal within the city limits.
This fall and winter, part of my task has been to contact and help community garden managers throughout Birmingham understand the permitting process and also assess their needs and visions for their gardens in the future. It’s been a pleasure to meet so many people invested in improving access to healthier food and physical activity throughout their communities. Weld, a weekly news publication in the city, recently declared in October that Birmingham was a “city of gardens.” I can personally verify this proclamation.
Over the past two years Conservation Alabama has also been advocating for Complete Streets policies throughout Alabama. Cities like Anniston, Birmingham, Montevallo, as well as a number of others have created policies that will privilege multiple users through changes in infrastructure: larger roads to accommodate cyclists, sidewalks wide enough for users of all abilities and needs, just to name a few. Stay tuned for updates as we move into planning and implementation stages of some of these policies. They have laid a foundation for all sorts of exciting opportunities for economic development, healthier citizens, and stronger communities. These policies and the great changes they are bringing for our state are just another way Conservation Alabama Foundation is working to protect the people and places you love!