North Carolina Republican lawmakers whose districts include U.S. military bases are again seeking to slow down wind energy development in the state. In their most recent effort, the state Senate Majority Leader and two other state senators are proposing a 3-year moratorium to study the safety risks that wind farms pose to military installations.
If it became law, the Military Operations Protection Act of 2017 would stall, and potentially derail, the proposed Timbermill Wind farm in Chowan and Perquimans counties, a project totaling 105 turbines that would extend 600 feet into the sky. Apex Clean Energy, the Charlottesville, Va.-based developer, is expected to start applying for state permits to build the energy project as soon as the company resolves a Perquimans County permit denial, which is currently under appeal and pending in court.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, a Republican from Jacksonville, and other lawmakers have for several years expressed concern that unchecked wind farm development could interfere with radar reception and military flight paths. In introducing their bill this week, they said interfering with military air missions could undermine North Carolina’s military bases the next time they come up for review on base realignment and closure. The state is home to six military installations and is home 130,000 active duty personnel, the third-highest military population in the country.
Apex Clean Energy officials said the existing review process is plenty rigorous.
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“The Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse has reviewed over 2,000 wind projects nationwide,” Don Giecek, Apex’s Senior Development Manager, said in an emailed statement. “No project opposed by the military has been built since the Clearinghouse was created.
“We’re willing to discuss improved communication and cooperation, but a moratorium is clearly unnecessary and puts at risk rural economic investment and undercuts the existing working relationship between developers and the military.”
The senators could not be reached for comment Friday, but said in a statement that “it’s unfortunate that taxpayer-subsidized incentives to the renewable energy industry are resulting in higher energy costs to N.C. consumers.”
“At the end of the day, this bill isn’t about the merits or lack thereof in subsidizing wind energy,” they said. “It is about our responsibility to protect the investment the U.S. military has made in our state and honor our commitment to being the most military-friendly state in the country.”
Wind farms currently require clearance from the Department of Defense, through the Clearinghouse review, and from the Federal Aviation Administration. A “Notice of Presumed Hazard” from the FAA, or objections from the DOD, will halt a wind farm until the project is reconfigured or scaled back to address civilian and military aviation concerns.
That review process trimmed the Amazon Wind Farm in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties from an initially proposed 150 turbines to 104 turbines, which generate power for the online retailing giant’s out-of-state data centers. Military officials had expressed concerns about radar interference from some of the Amazon wind turbines, which were subsequently removed from the layout.
“You would not be able to proceed with the project if you did not meet the military’s operational needs,” said Andrew Gohn, Eastern state policy director for the American Wind Energy Association in Washington. “It’s unfortunate that this legislation seeks to duplicate or override a process already in place.”
Last year Brown introduced legislation that proposed safety standards that were stricter than those used by the DOD. The Military Operations Protection Act of 2016 passed the state Senate, but was never debated in the state House.
Earlier this year, the three senators who are proposing the moratorium, along with state House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Speaker Phil Berger and other lawmakers, wrote to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, urging the security agency to forcibly shut down the Amazon Wind Farm, which was already completed.
They said the U.S. should compensate the developer for its costs, but not for lost future profits. The developer was called Iberdrola at the time the project was proposed, but the Spanish company has subsequently been renamed Avangrid.
“Shut down the project permanently,” the senators wrote. “This would be done due to its imminent, highly likely, unacceptable threat to our national security.”
“No tears need to be shed for Iberdrola, which is the antithesis of the Make America Great program,” they wrote. “For example, this foreign company holds the national record for amounts of money extracted from the US economy and sent abroad!”
By comparison, this week’s bill is more measured, proposing a temporary moratorium while the state conducts a $50,000 study to understand the effects of wind farms on military infrastructure. Under the moratorium, North Carolina would not issue permits for wind farms by the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Coastal Resources Commission.
The moratorium would be retroactive to Jan. 1 and would end Dec. 31, 2020.