Under the Dome

Wind turbines along NC military flight paths could be banned

Under proposed legislation, wind turbines would not be allowed in any of the areas of the state that are color-coded on this map.
Under proposed legislation, wind turbines would not be allowed in any of the areas of the state that are color-coded on this map. N.C. General Assembly

Some state lawmakers want to prohibit wind turbines across large swaths of North Carolina where they might interfere with military jets or helicopters.

The proposal, approved in a Senate committee Wednesday over opposition from Democrats, would also require more stringent review of the wind-energy projects in areas surrounding military bases.

“This is not an anti-wind bill, although some will try to describe it that way,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Harry Brown. “This is a pro-military bill.”

Brown is a Republican from Jacksonville, home to Camp Lejeune. He stressed the economic benefit to the state’s military bases and their 778,000 jobs, which he said the state could lose if tall structures make training flights more dangerous.

Brown rewrote an unrelated piece of legislation into House Bill 763, retitled it the Military Operations Protection Act of 2016 and took it to the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Brown said it had been in the works for several years.

Under the bill, wind facilities would not be allowed in areas described in a color-coded map, which measures the height of military aircraft training flights. The map was created by a company hired by the state, Brown said, and differs from an air traffic pattern map the Pentagon uses.

Two wind projects are currently planned for three northeastern counties. Estimates are that two of the wind projects would spend $700 million in the low-population, poor counties.

The bill is unclear about whether those projects would be allowed to proceed under current law or be subject to the new law when it would take effect in October 2018.

Attorneys representing two of the pending wind projects spoke in opposition to the bill. One said allowing a state military affairs commission that the bill would create to keep the flight pattern map up to date creates uncertainty for businesses that want to invest hundreds of millions of dollars.

The state chapter of the Sierra Club issued a statement saying the bill needlessly set up a conflict between military and environmental and economic interests.

“HB 763 creates more red tape, uncertainty about the relationship of the state and federal permitting process, gives more than one state agency the power to deny projects, and may arbitrarily restrict private land use,” Melissa Dickerson said in the statement. “Meanwhile, it disregards the importance of clean energy investments to rural counties in eastern North Carolina.”

The General Assembly approved legislation in 2013 meant to ensure that wind facilities didn’t interfere with military training. The first permit under that new process has not yet been issued.

The new bill would add more layers of review, by the recently created Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Current regulations cover structures that are at least 200 feet tall and are within five miles of a major military base. The bill would make an exception for National Guard Joint Force Headquarters of a one-half mile buffer, and would include Camp Butner as a major base.

Cornell Wilson, secretary of the state veterans department, told the committee his agency should review wind facility plans because the department is in constant, direct contact with base commanders. If bases are unable to conduct the training they think is necessary then the military will move their aircraft to more friendly skies out of state, he said.

Wilson didn’t address the proposed ban.

Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, a Republican from Concord, said he was concerned about the implication of last week’s state Supreme Court ruling that found the state was taking private property without paying for it when it created protected corridors for future roads.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO