Alexander looks to quash proposed Tenn. farm

By Geof Koss | 05/19/2016 07:00 AM EDT

Sen. Lamar Alexander’s longstanding fight against federal support for wind energy is getting personal.

Sen. Lamar Alexander’s longstanding fight against federal support for wind energy is getting personal.

The Tennessee Republican took to the Senate floor yesterday to lambaste a wind farm proposed in Cumberland County, Tenn., which is nestled between Nashville and Knoxville.

"In 1867, when the naturalist John Muir first walked into the Cumberland Mountains, he wrote, ‘The scenery is far grander than any I ever before beheld. Such an ocean of wooded, waving, swelling mountain beauty and grandeur is not to be described,’" Alexander said.


"In January, Apex Clean Energy announced that it would spoil that mountain beauty by building 23 45-story wind turbines in Cumberland County," Alexander added.

wind farm
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) yesterday took to the Senate floor to criticize a proposed wind farm in his home state, using a photo of a similar facility in Palm Springs, Calif., to argue that the giant turbines would mar the natural beauty of the Cumberland Mountains. | Photo courtesy of Alexander’s office.

Turning to a large poster of a photo of a wind farm near Palm Springs, Calif., he asked, "Do we really want Tennessee to look like that?"

Yesterday’s speech was the latest turn in Alexander’s quest to end federal subsidies for wind energy, which he calls a mature technology that no longer deserves the production tax credit. Lawmakers extended it for five years in last year’s spending and tax deal.

Alexander aired similar complaints earlier this week during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on advanced nuclear reactors — a power source he favors and one that also qualifies for a tax break, albeit limited to new plants, capped at 6,000 megawatts and was only available during the first eight years of operation (E&E Daily, May 18).

Alexander, who chairs the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, also takes a dim view of federal research into wind energy. He waged an unsuccessful fight last month against an amendment to the $37.5 billion energy and water spending bill adding $95 million for wind (Greenwire, April 26).

The latest project drawing his ire is Crab Orchard Wind, which developer Apex Clean Energy Inc. says would power about 20,000 homes annually.

In an interview yesterday, Alexander said he wants local residents to understand the aesthetic implications of the proposal.

"One of the single most important parts of our life in Tennessee is the natural beauty of it," he said. "I don’t want Cumberland County, one of the most picturesque parts of our country, to look like Palm Springs, Calif., and I think that once the citizens of Cumberland County think about that, they won’t want it either."

Ulterior motive?

Alexander posed 10 "questions" for local residents to consider about wind, which touched on various economic and environmental arguments he says are central to the power source.

"Don’t we need wind power’s carbon-free electricity to help with climate change?" he asked "No. Nuclear power is a more reliable option. Nuclear produces over 60 percent of our country’s carbon-free electricity, which is available 92 percent of the time. Wind produces 15 percent of our country’s carbon-free electricity, but the wind often blows at night when electricity is not needed."

The Tennessee Valley Authority has said it doesn’t need additional baseload power, and to Alexander’s chagrin, just offered for sale its unfinished Bellefonte nuclear plant.

Alexander sees an ulterior motive for building a wind farm to provide unneeded electricity in a state where it’s windy only about 18 percent of the time: federal subsidies.

"The whole motive for it is the billions of dollars of subsidies that we give the wind producers, which encourages them to build these massive unsightly towers in places where we don’t need them or want them," he told E&E Daily.

The state already has one wind farm, the Buffalo Mountain Wind Farm, built in 2000 and operated by TVA. "It’s a big waste of money," Alexander said.

In floor remarks, he noted that he’s "voted to save our mountaintops from destructive mining techniques. I am just as eager to protect mountaintops from unsightly windmills."

"There are few places in our state more beautiful than Cumberland County," he concluded. "We should not allow anyone to destroy the environment in the name of saving it."

Kevin Chandler, spokesman for Apex Clean Energy, said the company was "disappointed Senator Alexander didn’t reach out to discuss the project with us directly, but we have greatly appreciated the local welcome we’ve received in Cumberland County and look forward to making this project a reality."

Chandler touted wind energy as a fast-growing energy source that doesn’t emit pollution, use large amounts of water or leave behind hazardous waste.

"Crab Orchard Wind represents a private investment of up to $130 million that will provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual tax revenue for Cumberland County while creating over 100 jobs during construction and several permanent jobs during operation," said the company statement.