My home state and my current state are embroiled in an issue that emotionally and physically impacts residents of two counties: Baldwin County in Alabama, and Howard County, where I live, in Indiana.
The issue is wind farms. Two states, two counties, two different outcomes.
The outcomes of the political process in the two counties are diametrically opposed, with one county voting to allow wind farms and the other voting against deployment of huge turbines.
Baldwin County is a large county with heavy farming and a short coastline. A prevailing wind makes the county a lucrative site for a wind power installation.
APEX Wind Energy of Charlottesville, Va., developed a plan that called for turbines that reached 590 feet from the base in south Baldwin County.
APEX's wind development manager, Wade Barnes, said, "Baldwin County has a very unique wind resource. It's a natural gift that the county enjoys. It's an opportunity for residents to benefit in terms of compensation."
On July 23, the Baldwin County Commission met to discuss the proposed wind farm and to set the date for a future meeting with its constituency. The stated purpose of the meeting called for Aug. 6 was for affected residents to voice their opinions about proposed ordinances to ban large wind turbines and wind farms.
In February, the commission had unanimously passed a resolution establishing a 180-day moratorium that prohibited the construction of wind farms and other wind-operated facilities that could produce energy in excess of five kilowatts.
The moratorium would expire Aug. 17, consequently the need for a meeting Aug. 6.
Aug. 6, the Baldwin Commission considered the input of concerned citizens with issues like the danger turbines present to migratory birds and noise pollution. The commission, by a unanimous vote, made the temporary ban on the wind farm permanent. It looked at the facts, decided what was best for all concerned and voted accordingly.
Just the opposite has occurred in Howard County. Its government was snookered by the wind farm developers.
There was very little input from landowners surrounding the wind farms with supporting comprehensive presentations from wind developers. Howard County commissioners signed a contract with E.ON Climate and Renewables that gives the county little wiggle room. There has been bluster about changing setbacks, lighting, etc.
E.ON reluctantly will agree to the changes, which are mostly window dressing to extricate commissioners from a bad situation. County government should never have signed a contract that fundamentally rewards a few landowners to the detriment of all citizens of Howard County.
What do the two comparisons have to do with Etowah County?
Baldwin's commission listened to the voices of the majority and acted accordingly while Howard's commission has done just the opposite.
Its action created acrimony among neighbors, landowners against landowners, farmers against farmers and affected citizens against landowners who have signed leases with the wind farm developers.
Setbacks, light flicker, noise pollution and destruction to wildlife are not the prime issues as far as I am concerned. Most people think wind power is free and seem ignorant to the fact that the taxpayers are heavily subsidizing payments for the wind-generated electricity to the participating landowners.
The very people who are against wind farms are required to pay, in the form of government subsidies, money to landowners they are fighting. This is a Catch-22 if there ever was one. Wind power is the second most subsidized form of energy used in the United States and can only survive on heavy contributions in the form of taxes.
In the Aug. 2 edition of The Gadsden Times, an article by staff writer Lisa Rogers said, "A group of property owners who voiced concern about the proposed wind farm on Lookout Mountain have filed suit against the two companies involved in the project and some of their neighbors who allegedly have agreed to have wind turbines placed on their property. They claim the project will destroy the scenic beauty and diminish property values in the area."
The property owners are right on both counts. I have seen firsthand what these whirling monstrosities do to the majestic farmland of Indiana. The turbines are not consistent in their production of energy and property values plummet, regardless of what the wind companies try to lead people to believe.
The lawsuit Rogers wrote about alleges the wind turbines are built because of "huge government subsidies that are acquired through the lobbying process" and solely benefit the wind energy companies and the landowners who put turbines on their property. Well stated, and the truth.
If Noccalula Wind LLC and Pioneer Green Energy are allowed to continue with this project, Etowah County residents who fought so hard to stop the wind farm will be required to pay the successful lease holders in the form of subsidies taken from federal taxes, their taxes. The irony is breathtaking.