CUMBERLAND COUNTY – What started out as an announcement that seemed to be great economic development news for Cumberland County is now turning into a political hot potato.
Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy said in January it planned to locate a new wind farm on private land, a project that would create some 111 temporary construction jobs, at least half from Cumberland County, along with about seven permanent jobs with an investment of up to $130 million. It would add some $362,000 in tax revenue to the county.
But opposition is building, including recent statements of opposition from Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander – who gave a 10-minute tirade on the Senate floor – and U.S. Congressman Diane Black, who called the farm “unsightly.” Crossville councilman Danny Wyatt has additionally asked the topic of the wind farm’s impact on Crossville be discussed during the Crossville city council’s regular June meeting.
Apex Clean Energy is proposing somewhere between 23 and 29 windmills. The precise number is still being developed as the plans are finalized, although the project would be the state’s largest. APEX held a number of meetings for the public to learn more and ask questions especially as opposition began to increase.
Meetings were held in Crab Orchard – the Cumberland County community where the project is technically located – and Fairfield Glade, a retirement community within view of the mountain where the windmills will be placed. Apex had numerous informational posters as well as photo-shopped images showing what the windmills would look like from different angles in the area. The proposed location is on top of Big Rock Mountain, about 10 miles east of Crossville, just north of Interstate 40 and above where the Franklin Minerals limestone mine is located. Per some of the images presented in the display, the units will be quite visible from the interstate and other areas of the county.
Residents in opposition to the project also held a meeting at the same time as the meeting in Fairfield Glade and passed out their own information and had a video as well. Those opposed to the project cite the unsightliness of the towers, and claim the project will reduce property values, generate sound, including infrasound, among other issues.
“I am hopeful we can stop this unsightly and needless project from taking place,” Black has said. She urged the Tennessee Valley Authority to reject the proposal.
The effect of the project on wildlife is another topic of concern. An Apex representative told the UCBJ that during the first two years of operation, they would document the number of bats killed by the blades and then file the necessary paperwork with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service for a so-called “taking permit,” and they would require some sort of remediation based on the number of bats killed. Other kinds of wild birds are occasionally killed by the towers, although the numbers are not high, according to the representative.
The Apex representatives countered some of the comments about the view of the towers. Similar structures are visible everywhere these days, they said, from electric service lines along roads to numerous cell phone towers.
But opposition to the project appears to be growing, and supporters and detractor will have to wait and see if the project moves forward. Apex representatives encouraged concerned visitors to travel to nearby Anderson County where TVA has a number of turbines on Windrock Mountain above Oliver Springs. The turbines are visible from parts of Oak Ridge as well.
The company, which plans to bring five new U.S. wind energy facilities online this year, is still gathering input and conducting studies. The original plans were for operations to begin in 2017.
“Our goal in developing the wind project in Cumberland County is to create a clean, renewable, and homegrown source of energy that can supply power to Tennessee,” Mark Goodwin, president of Apex Clean Energy, said in January. “We believe renewable energy projects like this will move our country toward energy independence by harnessing the energy that flows through our own backyards.”