LEESBURG, Ala. - One of the founders of the Texas-based firm studying the feasibility of a wind farm on Lookout Mountain first cast his eye on the area over a decade ago, a company spokesman said recently.
"We first looked at the area in 2002," Pioneer Green co-founder and vice president David Savage told The Post. "This site has always had promise."
Pioneer Green was founded in 2007 by Savage and a small group of wind energy veterans, according to the company's website. The company recently announced it has raised $20 million in capital to fund a portfolio of 20 wind projects and 10 solar projects across North America. The company has already developed 17 wind farms across the United States, including sites in Texas, Tennessee and New York.
The so-called Shinbone Wind Project, which would line Lookout Mountain near Leesburg, has an estimated cost of $31.6 million and would consist of eight to 10 turbines. Pioneer Green has already collected four years of wind energy data on the mountain and has an agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority to purchase power generated by the turbines for 20 years.
"TVA has executed a power purchase agreement with us, and that is the financial engine of the project," Savage has said. "We're very excited about that."
According to information supplied by Pioneer Green the project, if constructed, would generate up to 20 megawatts, enough energy to power around 6,000 homes.
Savage said Pioneer Green is awaiting the completion of a TVA environmental study before taking the next step in the development process.
"We hope TVA will conclude its study by next spring," Savage said. "It should take about eight more months and will actually be a review of a lot of things we have already done."
An independent economic study conducted by Jacksonville State University estimated the wind farm would generate up to $300,000 a year in tax revenue for Cherokee County. The study also predicted "economic impacts in the form of new employment and new economic activity ($3.7 million), and possible tourism impacts ($2.2 million annually)."
The 450-foot towers that Pioneer Green plans to construct each feature three long blades with an electricity generator in the hub. Spaced roughly a fifth-mile to a quarter-mile apart, the turbines will be connected by underground electrical lines and supply an existing energy grid.
Savage acknowledged there are some who might frown upon the noise and sheer height of the turbines. But he said he believes the benefits of wind energy far outweigh the drawbacks.
"We certainly acknowledge that no energy plant is perfect," Savage said. "There is some sound, but it dissipates quickly and blends into the background at distances over a thousand feet."
Savage said Pioneer Green's policy against placing a turbine within 1,000 feet of permanent residences makes the Shinbone Ridge site ideal for a wind farm.
"A key feature of the project area is that the mountain behind Cherokee Rock Village, all the way to the county line, is completely empty of houses, cabins or other occupied dwellings," Savage said.
Regarding the appearance of the turbines, Savage said they are always painted white and will only be partially visible above the tree line. He said people eventually stop noticing them altogether, much like power lines and cell phone towers.
"As part of the TVA analysis, we'll be doing some depictions, a sort of visual simulation, that we will make available," Savage said. "The purpose is so people can see what the turbines are going to look like."
Last week, the Cherokee County Parks and Recreation Board approved a plan to explore the possibility of placing a turbine on park property near Cherokee Rock Village. The remainder would be on private property if the project is realized.
During a recent presentation to the PRB, Savage pointed out the project's tourism advantages.
"There are only a few of these plants that are available for people to view up close," Savage said. "At those sites there has been quite a bit of curiosity. People will come to view these turbines if they are invited."
Savage said Pioneer Green would be willing to work with the PRB to construct an observation deck and other "ecotourism" features if a turbine is sited on park property.