A state’s lawmakers are supposed to make sure their constituents have opportunities for prosperity and progress. But in North Carolina, they are doing the exact opposite, closing off one of the biggest avenues for economic development available to rural communities.
Things didn’t start out this way. House lawmakers labored over energy legislation, House Bill 589, and found compromises among solar companies, utilities and environmental groups. It was a bipartisan deal that would have been good for consumers, businesses and utilities. In other words, it was an example of how government is supposed to work.
Unfortunately, during late-night final negotiations between the House and Senate on HB 589, Sen Harry Brown put a poison pill in the measure – an unnecessary and counter-productive 18-month moratorium on the permitting of wind projects through Dec. 31, 2018. There was no military urging or request from the public for this provision. Brown had previously tried and failed to pass a wind moratorium through other means; first in committee and then in the budget.
The fact that the only way to pass this was to hijack a consensus stakeholder bill shows just how unpopular and unnecessary this policy is in North Carolina. A wind moratorium ultimately hurts the residents of eastern North Carolina, which could lose $1 billion in investments from two to three projects currently under development. It sends a signal to businesses trying to invest in the state that regulations are unpredictable and not always grounded in fact. This moratorium threatens individual property rights and denies rural economies one of the best economic development opportunities available to them. For Brown to put the renewable energy industry, the utility and his fellow legislators in the position of a significant compromise without any discussion is disturbing.
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The newly-built Amazon wind farm proves wind projects can be built under existing permitting rules without endangering the military. Instead of solving a nonexistent problem, what this moratorium actually does is jeopardize private investment in rural areas of North Carolina, places that need help the most. Because of the Amazon wind farm, Pasquotank and Perquimans County combined enjoy over $500,000 in new county tax revenue, on top of the nearly $650,000 in lease payments paid out to landowners each year.
This ill-advised policy severely threatens the ability for other counties in North Carolina to enjoy similar economic benefits. The current permitting process requires the DoD Clearinghouse to identify potential impacts from wind turbines long before they are built. The DoD Clearinghouse receives input from each branch of the military that may be impacted, ensuring all possible effects are taken into account. If there is a conflict, wind developers work with the military to address those concerns early on, before final permits are given and any construction takes place.
More than 1,000 wind farms across the country are in operation today, thanks in part to the current siting process. The fact is, no wind farm has ever been built against the DoD’s wishes. Republican Rep. Bob Steinberg represents the North Carolina district that would be most impacted by Brown’s moratorium. He says: “This is a major energy bill and most of the assembly’s leaders and members wanted it. The wind moratorium, now part of HB 589, appears to have boxed in the governor, the House and the Senate. It sends a chilling message that lawmakers can pick winners and losers and interfere with the free market and property rights.”
Republican Rep. John Szoka, one of the original sponsors of HB 589 and a retired Army Colonel and Airborne Ranger also said: “I would never do anything that would hurt the military. But some people are dealing more from emotions than facts.”
This is a perfect example of a legislative process undermined by secrecy and last-minute measures that doesn’t solve actual problems and goes against the wishes of the military and the public.
Katharine Kollins is the President of the Southeastern Wind Coalition.