Sen. Alexander: Environmentally Responsible Wind Power Act

  • Friday, June 10, 2005
  • Sen. Lamar Alexander

In order to protect our nation's most scenic areas, Senator John Warner (R-VA) and I introduced the Environmentally Responsible Wind Power Act of 2005 last week in the Senate. Congressman John Duncan (R-TN), chairman of the Water Resources Subcommittee, and Congressman Bart Gordon (D-TN), the ranking member of the Science and Technology Committee, will be introducing similar legislation in the House.

Our bill would do three things:

Protect America's most scenic treasures - such as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and deny federal subsidies for giant wind turbines within 20 miles of any national park, national military park, national seashore, national lakeshore or one of 20 “World Heritage sites” in the United States.

Protect our most pristine coastlines - by denying federal subsidies for wind turbines less than 20 miles offshore, which is the horizon of a national seashore, a national lakeshore or a national wildlife refuge.

Enhance local control - by giving communities a 180-day timeout period from the time a wind project is filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in which to review local zoning laws related to the placement of these giant wind turbines.

This legislation is necessary because my research suggests that if the present policies are continued we will spend nearly $4.5 billion over the next five years to subsidize windmills. Because of those large subsidies, the number of giant wind turbines in the United States is expected to grow from 6,700 today to 40,000 or even double that number in 20 years according to estimates by the Department of Energy and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

These wind turbines are not your grandmother's windmills, gently pumping water from the farm well. Here is just one example: as most Tennesseans know, the University of Tennessee has the second largest football stadium in America, seating 107,000 people. Just one of these giant wind turbines would fit into that stadium. It would rise to more than twice the height of the highest skybox. Its rotor blades would stretch almost from 10-yard line to 10-yard line. And on a clear night, its flashing red lights could be seen for 20 miles. Usually, these wind turbines are located in wind farms containing 20 or more, but the number can be more than 100. They work best, of course, where the wind blows best which, in our part of the country, is along scenic coastlines or scenic ridge tops.

There may be differences of opinions about the cost, effectiveness and appropriateness of such wind turbines. That is a separate discussion. I hope that the Senate can at least agree not to subsidize building them in places that damage our most scenic areas and coastlines.

Since wind turbines of this giant size are such a relatively new phenomenon, it fits our American tradition to give local communities time to stop and think about their most appropriate location.

I want to be clear; this legislation does not prohibit the building of a single wind turbine. It only denies a federal taxpayer subsidy in highly scenic areas. And it ensures local governments have the time to review wind turbine proposals.

This bill does not give local authorities any power they do not already have. It simply gives them a little time to act.

I hope my congressional colleagues will join me and Senator Warner in this effort to ensure the federal government does not provide tax incentives that ruin the beauty of our country’s most pristine and scenic areas.

Egypt has its pyramids, Italy has its art, England has its history, and the United States has the great American outdoors. We should prize that and protect it where we can. One way to do that is to make sure that when we look at the Statue of Liberty, when we look at the Great Smoky Mountains, when we look at the Grand Canyon—we do not have giant windmills, twice as tall as Neyland Stadium, in between us and that landscape.

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