published Friday, October 1st, 2010

Windstorm of debate

A proposal to put 120 windmills — each as tall as a football field is long — on the brow of Lookout Mountain is blowing up a windstorm of debate.

“They’re loud. They vibrate,” said Carl McCleskey, of Cloudland, Ga. “This mountain has 2,000 caves in it and a geology like Swiss cheese. And when they blast to put these in, what’s going to happen to our water [wells, if the rocks shift]?”

  • photo
    Contributed Photo Wind turbines on Buffalo Mountain.

Iberdrola Renewables, based in Spain, proposes a line of turbines near Lookout Mountain Scenic Highway and Georgia Highway 157 in Walker and Chattooga counties. The plan calls for up to 120 gigantic windmills, each rising 300 feet tall, with 135-foot blades.

When the blades are vertical, the turbine assembly stretches up to 435 feet. When the blades are horizontal, they will span 90 yards.

Though the Chattanooga region is known for polishing its green image, area leaders are struggling with the possibility of a wind farm atop its most iconic ridge — the 84-mile long Lookout Mountain that stretches through the corners of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell said she does not support the plan.

“I think it will be very detrimental for Lookout Mountain and the tourism here. People come here to use our trails and mountain camps. With towers here, I worry that tourists would just go away,” Heiskell said Saturday after sitting in on a residents’ meeting aimed at raising opposition to the wind farm.

Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman, who is based in Pennsylvania, said he can’t offer many specifics about the proposal except to say it’s environmentally friendly.

“It’s way early. We don’t even know yet from where to where it might reach (along the mountaintop),” Copleman said. “We’re contacting landowners to offer land leases in Walker and Chattooga counties. First we’ll have to put up wind test towers to see what wind is there.”

Bobby Davenport,long a green advocate and whose family put Georgia’s Lula Lake property in a preservation trust, said it’s not the best idea.

“The problem with windmills is they’re in your face,” Davenport said. “And they’re just not very efficient. ... In this neck of the woods, the sun shines a lot more than the wind blows.”

David Crockett, with Chattanooga’s Office of Sustainability, didn’t warm to the idea, either.

“I’m not wild about that, aesthetically,” he said. “If you’re sensitive about houses being built on the brow (and marring vistas), what are you going to think about something that’s 300 feet in the air?”

The other green

One green group, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, advocates giving the proposal a chance.

“Wind energy opponents often cite noise or property value concerns as primary reasons to throw away a multimillion-dollar opportunity — despite evidence showing these impacts are either nonexistent or can be mitigated substantially,” said Anna Cayce, the alliance’s wind expert.

Responsible wind developments undergo year-long wind studies and environmental assessments, she said. Public meetings throughout the process give local residents gain information and express their concerns, she said.

Once an official wind farm proposal comes to fruition, residents should become well informed about the potential project and then judge, she said.

“This important decision should not be made based on old or misguided information, but on current and objective facts,” Cayce said.

Though Iberdrola’s Copelman said he couldn’t offer much local information now, he pointed to the company’s 37-tower Hardscrabble Wind Power Project in Herkimer County, N.Y., which has undergone pre-construction studies.

The proposed wind farm will produce 200 jobs as well as generate $592,000 per year for three towns, two school districts and the county, he said. Lease payment to about 30 landowners a total of about $650,000 a year for the life of the project, he said.

“During the (Hardscrabble) development and construction phases of the project, we estimate that we will spend over $4 million on local goods and services,” he said. “We conservatively estimate that over $6 million will be spent on materials sourced from within the state (New York).”

The final say

It’s unclear what, if any, environmental rules might govern Georgia wind farms.

Dawn Harris-Young, spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said there are no emissions or waste products from wind turbines, so EPA has no oversight unless the project receives federal funds.

If it does, the funding agency must decide what level of study is required under the National Environmental Policy Act, commonly called NEPA, she said. EPA can review and comment on the study.

Kevin Chambers, with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, said the Peach State likewise “would not have any sort of permitting role” for a wind farm.

“The only thing we can think of is there may be some land disturbance issues in building the towers, and those would likely be addressed by a local (permit) issuing authority,” he said.

Heiskell said Walker County has zoning rules, and any towers sited in Walker would have to be approved by the zoning board.

“But Chattooga County doesn’t have zoning rules,” she said.

Jason Winters, Chattooga County sole commissioner, said it appears “if private landowners want to pursue this, it can happen.”

“What I’ve urged our folks to do is not to commit to contracts yet until we know more,” Winters said.

Georgia state Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, shares the concerns of the more than 60 people who crowded into a Cloudland, Ga., living room Saturday to learn more from their neighbors about wind power.

“It really needs careful consideration,” Reece said. “While we need alternative forms of energy, tourism and water are legitimate concerns for our community, as is the question of [the wind-power project’s] effect on property values and on wildlife from the noise pollution.”

Efficiency questions

Reece said everything she has seen in the state Legislature indicates that Georgia is not a good state for wind power.

But Copleman said new technologies are maximizing returns in lower and variable wind areas.

“Publicly available wind power maps are guides but not gospel, and we are at least interested in studying the wind for ourselves, to create a more accurate picture of the wind resource in the area,” Copleman said.

Ten years ago, wind maps also said states like Pennsylvania and Ohio were not viable for wind farms, he said. Now Pennsylvania has more than 700 megawatts of wind energy installed. It is home to major wind-turbine manufacturing facilities, he said, and construction on Ohio’s first large wind project is about to begin.

And, as technology improves, wind turbines are becoming quieter, too, he said.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has its own wind farm at Buffalo Mountain near Oak Ridge.

At the farm, which is five miles from the nearest home, wind power operates at optimum capacity only 25 percent of the time, said TVA’s Rick Carson. The farm’s 18 wind turbines can supply power for about 3,250 homes a year, he said.

The wind farm power is sold to customers who are willing to pay more to promote clean and alternative energy through TVA’s Green Power Switch program, Carson said.

TVA spokesman Mike Bradley said Iberdrola has not contacted the agency about selling power from the proposed Lookout Mountain farm to TVA, although TVA does buy power from another Iberdrola wind farm in Illinois.

Copleman said it’s too early to talk about selling power from the proposed Georgia turbines.

Pam Vias, who hosted Saturday’s information meeting in the living room of her Cloudland home, distributed petitions to neighbors, asking them to gather opposition signatures.

“This is not wide-open plains or the middle of nowhere. This is a residential area, all along the track of Highway 157. This doesn’t belong here,” she said.Heiskell says she agrees, and she and Chattooga Commissioner Winters expect to have a teleconference conversation with Iberdrola officials today

“We’ll know more then,” Heiskell said.

Contact Pam Sohn at or 423-757-6346.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
harrystatel said...

I find it interesting that many of those who want "clean energy, no coal-fired power plants, clean air, clean water, electric cars, green spaces, and renewable energy sources," want the projects for power sources anywhere but where they live.

Much like the Kennedys in Massachusetts against wind turbines that would be placed offshore(six miles away)as it would disturb the natural beauty of the area. The fact is it would be slightly visible from their compound.

It's fall and the sickly, sweet smell of hypocrisy fills the air descending on the valleys below.

Harry Statel

October 1, 2010 at 8:22 a.m.
chefdavid said...

Tell them to come to Dade. We don't have any zoning. I live in the valley but bring me a lease I'll sign it and then hang Christmas tree lights off of it. My thoughts are here

October 1, 2010 at 9:12 a.m.
chefdavid said...

Looks like lookout has some of the best wind in the state.

October 1, 2010 at 9:19 a.m.
whatever said...

Actually Robert Kennedy stated that he would accept the site a few miles further offshore.

Hardly an unreasonable, uncompromising position. There is a lot of utilization of the current area, enough that I find it a bit strange that people decide to misrepresent Kennedy's words. Perhaps they're just seeking some hypocrisy?

However, here's what he said:

"All of these ills could be avoided simply by moving the turbines to one of many suitable alternative sites -- only a few miles distance."

Gee, I'm sorry, but that's not quite as bad as has been made out.

October 1, 2010 at 9:36 a.m.
mtngrl said...

These seems like a much better option than mountain top removal, trapped miners and coal ash spills.

There are many radio antennaes all over the mountains in the Chatt. area. I wonder if there's a way to attach a turbine to the tops of those....

October 1, 2010 at 10:05 a.m.
BribedAirHead said...

Maybe a little more research will show no real wind resource capable of paying off the investment needed for this project--TVA's wind "park" on the taller mountain above Oak Ridge is only running 22% capacity. The huge heavy noisy turbines will ruin the homesteads, tourism, water (blasting), wildlife, tourism, and real estate values of the area. This isn't an old unoccupied mining site like the Buffalo Mountain "park".

The wind "expert" with the clean energy alliance should rethink who is "throwing away a multi-million opportunity". Iberdrola doesn't need a successful energy-making project--just a project on paper, and they get a 30% cash grant up front from the federal treasury (that's us), and they can get a TVA 'green' power contract for any power sold at several times true value (many of us around here), so they can busy themselves spending the money up front.

When the project fails, so much for those leases the sold-out neighbors are counting on--they'll get re-valued in bankruptcy court, sold to others, or abandoned. It's a tried and true formula for how outsiders ride a development bubble driven by false subsidies, not real value. Efficiency and weatherization stimulus would do more for jobs and greening the region--not this misplaced project.

This needs to be stopped now, as it would save a lot of our money. Spain's Iberdrola can go elsewhere, though it's not likely they can milk any more from Spain's economy. Spain subsidized wind into a huge loss of jobs and a big federal deficit, that's why Iberdrola has targeted the US for "$6 billion of wind projects by 2012" though it's our money they're using. Read George Will's A Quixotic Pursuit: Green Energy Jobs at

October 1, 2010 at 10:15 a.m.
Sailorman said...

And here's what the other side said:

"The developers say there is no viable location for the project other than the shallow waters of Nantucket Sound. "Any farther out would be cost-prohibitive," said Gordon. "The challenge for this project is to demonstrate that wind power is not only environmentally safe, but commercially viable."

Even if there were an alternative site, advocates say, redesigning and re-permitting would delay the project several more years."

There was much more to the discussion - on both sides.

October 1, 2010 at 10:19 a.m.
whatever said...

There was much more to the discussion - on both sides.

But not quite the absolute opposition which has been made out by various people seeking to make the issue divisive and one of personality instead of a discussion of reasonable concerns and interests.

Believe it or not, there is consideration that can be given either way, but if you come across as somebody not even willing to talk, then you're just going to be left out of the process.

October 1, 2010 at 10:26 a.m.

I wonder how much extra TVA already is paying the Spanish company for their wind power from Illinois. Of course, TVA will not reveal anything relating to “competiveness” even though it is a federal government agency.

TVA started out wrong in the first place; it never should have put the American people at odds with its own free-enterprise system. It has since 1933 and it is unfortunate for Southerners now to have to bear the burdens of an out of control federal agency that spends money faster than the Tennessee River flows.

Oh yes, when TVA is running short, they just kick the can down the road for someone else to worry about (like its supposed parent) and borrows another billion dollars with a 50-year payout. Got it? That’s 50 years from now!

Meanwhile the “transparent” TVA keeps its cards close to its vest revealing nothing that might be considered “competitive”. If not so serious, it would be a joke that the TVA, a federal government agency, purposefully is trying to push all investor-owned electric utilities out of the picture.

FDR’s aim, after all, was to make “little TVA’s” all over the country; looks like that part of his vision is about to come true with direct lines even to North Dakota.

None of this stuff is cheap so hold on to your wallets faithful ratepayers you may soon have to request a loan from TVA to pay for their electricity. (“I owe my soul to the company store…”)

Ernest Norsworthy Norsworthy Opinion

October 1, 2010 at 10:30 a.m.
whatever said...

I prefer TVA to Enron.

Yeah, you like what Ken Lay did? Can you come anywhere close to that kind of conduct from TVA?


October 1, 2010 at 10:32 a.m.
jannie said...

It's bad enough that these bird killing, heavily subsidized industrial machines are taking farm lands out of production, causing people to have to abandon their homes because of noise, but to dispoil mountaintops and tourist attractions -- for what? Wind is 25 - 30%efficient (most likely less)- if no subsidy it would not be cost efficient. As a long standing environmentalist I can not support the environmental community that supports these things in places they don't belong. They have been conned!

I don't care if the government wants to handout my taxpayer money to foreign companies and to landowners, but when besides passing out the money we lose our landscape, homes, beauty and birds/bats it just makes me cry!

October 1, 2010 at 12:18 p.m.
redbearded said...

You mean to tell me that some fool really wants to put those ugly windmills on the prettiest stretch of mountain in the southeast? I don't care if it rattles and makes enough noise to wake the dead, it will never pay enough in energy to warrant the grotesque look of stupidity.

October 1, 2010 at 12:27 p.m.
whatever said...

Wind is 25 - 30%efficient (most likely less)- if no subsidy it would not be cost efficient.

Wrong! You are confusing capacity factor with cost efficiency. Sure, Wind's capacity is usually in the 25-30% range, but that's because the cost of overbuilding is low compared to an inability to utilize excess wind. Anybody who builds for minimal wind power generations is stupid because then they can't take advantage of excess wind when it comes along.

When it comes to cost, Wind's actually quite cost efficient, it's just a matter of scale. The on-going expenses are minimal, it's the initial capital outlay that costs.

Fortunately that outlay can be paid off over time, not just at once.

October 1, 2010 at 1:31 p.m.
dadw5boys said...

A windmill broke down and wind spilled across the country side doing no damage and costing nothing to clean up .

October 1, 2010 at 2:36 p.m.
eeeeeek said...

cut paste "Digging through the Intertubes, I found that it’s true. Each large, commercial wind turbine in the United States kills an average of about two birds per year. This varies a lot based on where the wind farm is. Some are right in bird migration paths, and some aren’t. But the average is about two per year per turbine. In 2001 there were 3,500 operational wind turbines in the U.S., for a grand total of 6,400 birds killed.

Sounds like a lot, I suppose. But I wanted to know how many birds died from other manmade causes. Here are those numbers (based on the most common annual estimates I found):

Window collisions 1,000,000,000 Powerline collisions 174,000,000 Hunting 100,000,000 House cats 100,000,000 Pesticides 67,000,000 Automobile collisions 60,000,000 Communication towers 40,000,000 Oil extraction 1,000,000 Wind turbines 6,400

The granddaddy of human-caused bird population decline is habitat destruction. Numbers are not available, but it’s said to dwarf the causes listed above.

But even that pales in comparison to natural bird deaths. About one third of all birds die in collisions with natural objects, like rocks, trees, or the ground. Most of these are young birds learning to fly.

However, simply that more birds are killed by other causes doesn’t justify the incremental increase imposed by wind turbines. The entire argument is a non-sequitur, technically speaking. But it’s not completely irrelevant, in that it does put the issue into proper perspective.

It doesn’t even address the ongoing death toll to birds from particulate air pollution caused by coal and oil burning power plants, which is what we’re left with when alternative energy sources are taken off the table for “environmental” reasons. I couldn’t find a number for this, but I’ll wager it’s at least as much as it is for humans. As many 100,000 people die each year, in the United States alone, from particulate air pollution from coal and oil burning power plants. I don’t know how many are killed by the environmental effects of wind turbines, but I think it’s safe to say the number is lower.

October 1, 2010 at 3:01 p.m.
Sailorman said...

For those who are actually interested in the science involved, here's some educational material to peruse.

Wind Turbines and the Energy in Wind

October 1, 2010 at 3:07 p.m.
mrredskin said...

look at all these idiots posting on here linking to their own sites. moderators should step in and ban these clowns.

wind is not an answer. everyone knows this.

October 1, 2010 at 3:11 p.m.
whatever said...

wind is not an answer. everyone knows this.

Suggest an inherently better one.

I wouldn't say it's the only answer, but it is part of an answer, and I usually find that most things don't have a single simple, no-consequence solution.

In the case of power generation, I'm sorry but I'm going to go with a phased elimination of fossil fuel power plants with replacement using a combination of nuclear/wind/solar/hydro/geo power as appropriate.

October 1, 2010 at 3:16 p.m.
whatever said...

Your dreams will be much worse tonight if you eat one.

October 1, 2010 at 3:29 p.m.
una61 said...

Calling Don Quixote!

October 1, 2010 at 4:05 p.m.

I think, my friends, the point is sorely missed; it’s not about tilting at windmills, it’s about power, literally and figuratively.

The one seeking the power, the one ever present in every council or commission meeting in their 80,000 sq. mi. ever expanding territory is, ta da! That border-crossing all engulfing fed, the TVA!

If you have studied the TVA as long as I have and do not come up with the same conclusion that TVA’s motives must be impugned at every turn, you need to hit the books. Of which when I announced several days ago that I soon would be publishing my book on the TVA, “Fraud!” something very dramatic happened.

I was banned from posting to at least three Scripps Howard newspapers; the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Ventura County Star (California). Don’t know how many others although Scripps is not very big in the newspaper business.

For years, every post I have made to many, many newspapers includes my URL. Banned from just one chain I hope is not catching. Naïvely, I guess, I thought newspapers thrived on controversy in seeking the truth.

Now if you believe that TVA did not have anything to do with my banning, I’ll show you where to hide your tooth.

Ernest Norsworthy

October 1, 2010 at 5:15 p.m.
whatever said...

Me, I think you were banned for advertising, I know I would do so if you were on any forums or lists I ran and you said you had a book about to be published.

That's very inappropriate behavior.

October 1, 2010 at 5:20 p.m.
acerigger said...

For about the same amount of money,the hydro-turbines at Chickamauga Dam could be up-graded to produce more electricity than these wind turbines,yet no one wants to discuss it.Why is that?

October 1, 2010 at 6:29 p.m.
whatever said...

Because I'm not a Cappadocian, and I don't consider hydrological engineer a calling.

October 1, 2010 at 6:31 p.m.
whatever said...

Actually Cappadocia predated Christianity, but you may want to look up a certain episode of the Simpsons.

October 1, 2010 at 8:47 p.m.

Whatever, fair enough. But that is not the reason given by the KNS editor. He said that my URL drew people away from their site when I believed my comments did the reverse.

My site, Norsworthy Opinion, has no advertising, none, and it is laughable to think my posts would in any way affect anything KNS publishes except to bring more traffic to them!

Yep, methinks there's a bit of a conspiracy going on here. I asked the Memphis Commercial Appeal why I was banned from their site (I rarely post there anyway) and I got no response.

Why in heavens name I would be banned from posting to the Ventura County Star in California, also a Scripps paper is just, well, unexplainable.

I must be very important to somebody who does not want my book to get out and the KNS has not been honest with me about the issue. Incidentally, over the years I have mentioned that I was writing a book about the TVA and there was no such response from anybody, certainly not from a newspaper chain.

Something is rotten in Denmark and I plan to find out what it is.

Here's my e-mail address; please let me know if you have any ideas.

Ernest Norsworthy

October 1, 2010 at 8:47 p.m.
whatever said...

Up to you, me, I know what I would have done. One warning, one block, one ban.

October 1, 2010 at 9:05 p.m.

No warning, no reason, why ban?

Ernest Norsworthy

October 1, 2010 at 9:18 p.m.
whatever said...

Many places use a banhammer protocol as a simplification.

Not my preference as a general rule, but understandable.

October 1, 2010 at 9:27 p.m.

The reason this instance is so peculiar is that I have posted hundreds of times to media all over the U.S. I have seen where others have been warned usually for good reason (profanity, personal attacks, etc.) but no other media outlet has seen fit to even warn me about the propriety of any of my posts, none of them. Links to my site Norsworthy Opinion carry no ads of any kind.

It is true that I have been sharply critical of the TVA based mostly on my own past experience in the federal government. Many actions of the TVA are appalling compared with my understanding of the rules of federal employee comportment and federal agency responsibility.

TVA gets away with “murder” in many areas and some of them are fraudulent yet no one brings the TVA board or its management to task. Weakly, TVA’s own Inspector General seems reluctant to follow through on some of the serious charges it has made (not too many of them) and the OIG seems to concentrate on lesser matters.

I have posited that one of the reasons this is so is because the TVA OIG is paid from TVA funds, not from an independent source.

Occasionally the GAO does a thorough analysis of an aspect of the TVA but over the years TVA decides on its own whether or not to comply with changes.

A recent example is the way TVA is handling its debt, now with commitments that exceed its $30 billion legislative cap after promise after promise to the GAO to reduce its debt. (This also calls into question whether the Antideficiency Act would apply in TVA’s case.)

More specifically, TVA refuses to release information on their so-called “Green Power Switch” program. After more than a three-month wait under the Freedom of Information Act still no answer. I believe the Green Power Switch is fraudulent.

There are other areas of fraud or possible fraudulent activity by the TVA. Some of them include TVA’s acquiescence to an improper “AAA” bond rating; the mishandling of $800 million in FCA payments plus others. TVA, well, it’s a mess.

Ernest Norsworthy

P.S. Have you ever heard of a corporation with no shareholders? Check out the TVA. EN

October 2, 2010 at 6:43 p.m.
whatever said...

I still prefer the TVA to Enron.

October 2, 2010 at 9:37 p.m.
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