State Politics

Wind project moratorium roils renewable energy bill

Wind farm projects changing landscape in eastern North Carolina

The Amazon Wind Farm is a massive project of over 100 turbines near Elizabeth City, N.C. While some are happy about the economic benefits others have misgivings for possible negative ecological and tourism impact.
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The Amazon Wind Farm is a massive project of over 100 turbines near Elizabeth City, N.C. While some are happy about the economic benefits others have misgivings for possible negative ecological and tourism impact.

A comprehensive revision of North Carolina’s energy laws, crafted over nearly a year of discussions with various interests and overwhelmingly approved in the House, has picked up a controversial provision in the Senate to ban wind energy projects for four years.

The rewrite of House Bill 589 came Tuesday in a Senate Rules Committee meeting, where Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Jacksonville, added the moratorium to provide time to ensure wind towers don’t interfere with military flight training.

Brown tried to accomplish that last year, using maps to plot out zones where tall structures would be allowed or prohibited, but the House didn’t take up the bill before the session ended.

Brown has long advocated going to great lengths to accommodate the state’s military bases, which account for a large part of North Carolina’s economy. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that military installations in the state support 578,000 jobs, $34 billion in personal income and $66 billion in gross state product, amounting to 10 percent of the state’s economy.

“For this legislature not to do all it could to protect those bases would be the biggest injustice this legislature has ever done, in my opinion,” Brown said Tuesday.

Sen. Paul Lowe, a Democrat from Winston-Salem, said Brown seemed to dismiss the benefit that wind energy projects could bring to the state.

“When I see counties aspiring to wind energy development, I want to hear more than that,” Lowe said of Brown’s explanation. “I’m not happy with that answer.”

The addition to the bill, along with other changes made in the Senate, could prompt an attempt by members of both chambers to try to work out a compromise. First, it must pass the Senate and then be returned to the House.

The bill is a wide-ranging approach to regulate renewable energy, the first rewrite of energy policy in 10 years. A key part of the bill would allow homeowners and businesses to lease otherwise unaffordable solar panels on their roofs. The leasing arrangement would eliminate the typical $10,000 to $20,000 cost.

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association issued a statement Tuesday saying the moratorium provision had been rushed through without any input.

“NCSEA strongly opposes the Senate’s version of House Bill 589, and we call on all Senators to abandon these reckless and short-sighted changes in favor of passing the bill in its original form,” Executive Director Ivan Urlaub said. 

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO

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