Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks of Sen. Alexander - Environmentally Responsible Wind Power Act

Posted on June 9, 2005

In order to protect our nation's most scenic areas, Senator Warner, the senior senator from Virginia, and I are today introducing a revised version of the Environmentally Responsible Wind Power Act of 2005. It will be introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman John Duncan, a Republican, who is chairman of the Water Resources Subcommittee, and by Representative Bart Gordon, a Democrat, who is the ranking Democrat on the Science and Technology Committee. Senator Warner and I have listened to our colleagues, and we have made several changes in our initial bill to simplify it and to make it the kind of bill we hope all senators will think makes good sense. What we have done is to simplify the local notification procedures and to more precisely protect scenic areas of the country without impacting the entire coastline. We have also removed a provision regarding military bases that was in our bill since that can be addressed in other legislation. Our revised bill would do three things: No. 1, to 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 20 World Heritage sites in the United States. No. 2, to protect our most pristine coastlines, it would deny 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. No. 3, to enhance local control, which most of us believe in, it would give communities a 180-day timeout period from when 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 over the next five years nearly $3.3 billion 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, which my colleagues from Alabama and South Carolina will especially appreciate. The University of Tennessee has the second largest football stadium in America, seating 107,000 people. Senator Sessions and I sat there while Auburn University beat the tar out of the University of Tennessee last year. I ask him to imagine that 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. Now, reasonable members of this body may disagree about the cost, effectiveness, and appropriateness of such wind turbines. We can have that debate at another time. But at least we ought to be able to 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 traditions to give local communities time to stop and think about their most appropriate location. In conclusion, Mr. President, let me emphasize that our 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 revised version does not give local authorities any power they do not already have. It simply gives them a little time to act. We intend to offer our legislation as an amendment when the full Senate debates the Energy bill next week, and we hope our colleagues will join us in this effort to ensure the federal government does not provide tax incentives that ruin the beauty of our most pristine and scenic areas around our country. 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 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, with flashing red lights, in between us and that landscape. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the record the text of the legislation which Senator Warner and I are introducing, a copy of the attachment which includes the approximately 200 highly scenic sites that could be protected by the Environmentally Responsible Wind Power Act of 2005, and two editorials from Tennessee newspapers -- one from the Chattanooga Times Free Press and one from the Knoxville News Sentinel -- which comment on the previous legislation we introduced.