Whether to build more wind farms in northeastern North Carolina counties hardly seems a question at all. The answer would be – yes, of course.
Wind farms make better use of the rural land, boost the counties’ thin tax bases, pump money into the local economy and help fight climate change by reducing the need to burn fossil fuels. But in Perquimans and Chowan counties near Elizabeth City the wind farm question is resisting an easy answer.
A 104-turbine Amazon wind farm has been cleared to start operating in neighboring Pasquotank County, but some residents are balking at the proposal for another project, the Apex Timbermill Wind project in Perquimans and Chowan counties. The proposed 105-turbine project will include turbine even more massive than huge Amazon installation, which includes 492-foot-tall turbine towers. The Timbermill turbines wiould stand 599 feet from ground to blade tip, the tallest turbines in the United States.
The high-reach of the turbines has also elevated local concerns about noise and the effects of the modern windmills on birds, the local scenery and property values. These are legitimate worries. They will be addressed at length at permit hearings in both counties. But it would be shortsighted of the two counties and North Carolina to turn down the project because of speculative fears about changes in counties unaccustomed to new industry or development.
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Wind farms have been around long enough that there is a clear history of how they affect local life and property values. In most instances, the gains far outweigh the drawbacks. And what problems have occurred with bird kills or noise have largely been eliminated as the wind industry has adjusted its siting and construction of turbines.
Some of the local resistance is about squabbles over which landowners get paid while others are left out, but still left with an altered landscape. And some is fueled by advocates for the fossil fuel industry who want to stop or slow the expansion of renewable energy sources.
But wind turbines are a low-cost, passive and, for some, even appealing presence. That’s especially so compared to what other industries rural a counties have welcomed to boost their economies, such as fracking, and industrial animal farms that bring traffic and take a environmental toll.
More wind farms in these lightly populated counties will be a sign of the future. North Carolina has one of the best wind resources on the East Coast on and offshore. It should tap that resource in these counties and beyond for the good local residents – all of whom will benefit from the property taxes – and the good of the nation.