The nation’s largest independent wind farm developer said Friday that it has abandoned its original plans for a 49-turbine project in Eastern North Carolina.
Chicago-based Invenergy’s reconsideration of its proposed Pantego Wind Energy project comes after months of delays caused by risks that would be deal-breakers for just about any wind farm.
The Pantego project’s spinning blades pose a potential threat to bald eagles roosting and foraging in Beaufort County, and they would create a collision risk for F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets making practice runs from nearby Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
Invenergy is considering whether to reconfigure the location of the giant turbines or give up on the site altogether and move the project. At their maximum height, the blade tips extend 492 feet into the air, interfering with air space needed for $31 million fighter jets that swoop in at an altitude of 500 feet.
“Rather than continuing to pursue the project as previously proposed, we are conducting a thorough reconsideration of the project site,” Invenergy said in a statement.
The Department of Defense has elevated the Pantego project to the highest level of review, assigning a special mitigation oversight team to try to resolve conflicts between the proposed wind turbines and low-flying F-15E jets.
For months Invenergy had been in talks with the Air Force as well as county and state officials in hopes of getting the project approved. But Air Force officials warned that the turbines were proposed in the direct flight path and also would interfere with military radar.
Invenergy proposed the Pantego project in September 2011, with operations set to get under way in December 2012. The wind farm was approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission in March 2012 but quickly ran into trouble with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the military.
No major wind farm proposed in North Carolina has reached construction despite the fact that the state has some of the best wind resources along the East Coast.
Preliminary estimates last spring said the Pantego wind farm could kill 3.4 to 20.7 bald eagles a year. In the summer, the military warned that the project could result in pilot deaths.
“Invenergy is committed to developing projects compatible with existing local military activity,” the company’s statement said. “We understand and greatly appreciate the vital role of the military for our nation, and for our local area in particular.”