Last week local bills passed for both Cherokee and Etowah counties that would regulate Wind Energy Conversion systems in both of these counties. These local bills contain language from the original version of Senate Bill 12 and impose strict regulations on wind energy providers. SB402 and SB403 require noise levels of no more than 40 decibels, setbacks of 2500 feet from the center of the device to the nearest property’s edge and permission from the local governing body before installing wind turbines that provide power for resale. Due to the level of restrictions these bills impose, their passage means there is little chance of any wind projects in those two counties.
In addition to the passage of these local bills, Senate Bill 12 makes its way to the House committee on Commerce and Small Business on Wednesday for a public hearing. In its current form, SB12 is much less restrictive than the local bills passed last week. The noise levels were increased to 50 decibels and setbacks are now 5 times the height of the system from its center to the edge of the nearest commercial or residential building. SB12 also allows for neighboring properties to waive these setbacks and eliminates Cleburne county altogether.
However, SB12 still provides no protections for birds and other wildlife. Conservation Alabama is working with partners at Birmingham Audubon to include language for both land based and offshore protections in wildlife corridors.
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.