Guest Blog | November 6, 2013
Energy Policy, Wind
Cartoon used under Creative Commons from BLAUGH.com
Alabama is a hotbed for wind farm development. Pioneer Green Energy, a Texas-based company with decades of experience developing wind projects across the country, is proposing the Noccalula and Shinbone wind projects in Alabama. These projects would create hundreds of jobs and generate hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for the local municipalities through new tax revenue. Yet, the vast benefits of wind energy are not appreciated by everyone and a small, vocal minority oppose any and all wind farms – even the ones not in their own back yards.
To kill the Alabama’s first two wind farms, a small number of local residents are suing Pioneer Green Energy through
two separate but very similar lawsuits. While these foes exhibit just about every tell-tale sign of wind farm opposition, they now appear to be borrowing a tactic from high school: plagiarism. Indeed, the lawsuit ( which is available online here) mirrors a 2005 lawsuit from Texas where a small number of residents there sued to block a wind farm ( text of that lawsuit is available here). By 2008, that Texas lawsuit proved to be a losing strategy on four separate occasions – in front of a trial judge, a trial by jury, by an appeals court and by the Texas Supreme Court through its refusal to reject the lower courts’ decisions. Just like in high school, the consequence of plagiarism is failure and history suggests the plagiarized Alabama lawsuits similarly won’t make the grade.
In 2005, a group of Texas residents put together a lawsuit against what was, at the time, the largest wind farm development in the world. The Horse Hollow project near Abeliene, Texas was proposed with 471 individual wind turbines for a total capacity of 735 megawatts. The lawsuit alleged that the massive wind farm would cause a nuisance to local property owners. The initial petition in Rankin v. FPL Energy was dismissed because the plaintiffs only had aesthetic complaints – wind farm development could continue. A portion of the lawsuit continued to a trial by jury, in which the jury found against the defendants and the wind farm development could continue. That lawsuit continued into the appeals process, and lost there too. The attorneys who defended the wind farm point to “ hard, scientific evidence” as their strategy for success. The Horse Hollow wind farm now generates clean, renewable electricity for 220,000 homes in Texas. At the time, it was estimated that 1,330 jobs would be created directly from the wind development and property values would skyrocket seven-fold from $500 million in 1999 to $3.5 billion by 2010. Two brand new schools were built with the new revenue collected from county taxes paid by the wind farm developer.
In Alabama, the two separate lawsuits have been filed by the residents’ lawyers, Dean Buttram and Associates. Buttram LLC’s lawsuit heavily borrows language from the failed 2005 Texas lawsuit. Certain sections of Buttram and Associates’ lawsuit are 75%-90% the
same exact language from the Texas losing lawsuit.
The glaring difference between the 2005 losing lawsuit and one of the 2013 lawsuits is that the Shinbone project in Alabama represents only
eight turbines – just 2% of the size of the Horse Hollow wind farm in Texas. How in the world can the Shinbone wind farm be a nuisance when it’s been established that a wind farm 50x bigger isn’t a problem?
Ultimately, an appeals court in the failed 2005 lawsuit noted that the plaintiff’s
“emotional response” to the wind farm was not enough to stop private property development. Perhaps Buttram and Associates’ are just taking advantage of their client’s “emotional response” and hoping Alabama’s wind farm foes won’t realize they’re backing a loser lawsuit.
DOWNLOAD THE COMPARISON OF THE LAWSUITS HERE