N.C. legislators turn blind eye to Pentagon’s assessment of wind farm safety

The Amazon Wind Farm near Elizabeth City will feature more than 100 turbines and be the largest wind farm in the Southeast.
The Amazon Wind Farm near Elizabeth City will feature more than 100 turbines and be the largest wind farm in the Southeast. Image courtesy of Iberdrola Renewables

Every active duty and retired military professional knows readiness and operational integrity can make or break a mission. It is something the military does not compromise.

After serving for 30 years in the U.S. Navy, I now work with the Military Advisory Board of CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization based in Arlington, Va. I work alongside some of the highest ranking military leaders in the world to educate the public about energy and our national security. In reading The News & Observer’s March 24 article, “State GOP tries to slow wind farms in NC,” I was shocked to learn that some North Carolina state lawmakers are boldly ignoring the Pentagon’s – already existing and rigorous – assessment of wind farm safety for military operations.

Our nation’s valuable military has aggressive goals for reducing energy use and introducing renewable energy on and nearby its bases: to help reduce cost, protect national security and provide alternative sources of power should grid failure occur.

North Carolina already has one operational utility-scale wind farm, which was thoroughly vetted and deemed not to threaten national security or military operations. I can assure you the military does not compromise when it comes to its operations or national security, and I encourage these legislators to take the time – as Rep. Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan) has done – to get all of the facts regarding the Amazon wind farm project and the extensive permitting process it required. This process is sufficient for future wind farm development in North Carolina, or any state for that matter. And, let the record show that to date no wind farm has sent the military packing. Not one base has been shut down – their concern is not warranted.

The military multiple times this year has adamantly stated its ability to coexist with wind farms. In a Jan. 15 article in the Daily Advance of Elizabeth City, Naval Public Affairs Officer Katisha Draughn-Fraguada said the “Navy agreed in 2014 to let the developer build 104 turbines,” and had “not contacted the North Carolina General Assembly about concerns with the project.”

Wind farms are already located near military bases around the country without impacting military operations. For example, there are more than 600 wind turbines operating near Travis Air Force Base in California, and some of them have been there for more than a decade. The nearest wind turbine there is less than 4.2 miles from radar.

Some who oppose wind farms for economic or aesthetic reasons veil their opposition in military protection. This is wrong. Each wind farm has unique characteristics which interact with military missions discretely.

In the case of the northeastern N.C. Amazon project, the placement of the turbines has no impact; however, military scientists evaluated scenarios involving atmospheric conditions, wind speeds, wind directions and wind turbine behaviors in order to identify possible risks. This process resulted in an agreement with the operator of the wind farm to govern operations. Such military and civilian operational agreements are not unique and adequately address operational integrity. Putting additional “safety” measures in place are an unnecessary waste of time and money.

Additionally, Avangrid Renewables, which built and owns North Carolina’s wind farm, signed an agreement with the military more than two years ago that allows the project to be shut down at any time for national security concerns. This requirement is explicitly stipulated in the contract between the wind company and the military and is standard practice for wind farms located near military bases.

Having a resilient electric grid, with power generated from distributed sources, lowers our national vulnerabilities to grid attack or failure. Accordingly, it is the military’s objective to see more distributed energy sources, like wind, that will increase the resiliency of the commercial electrical grid. Improving our electrical generation, while minimizing or mitigating adverse impacts on military operations and readiness, makes us safer.

The Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East does not degrade national security, and neither will other wind farms that come online in North Carolina. Rather, these projects add resiliency to our energy production, and make us more secure.

Leo Goff served as a captain in the U.S. Navy and Pentagon leadership for 30 years and now leads a program for the CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization located in Arlington, Va. CNA focuses on the economic and national security benefits of and risks of energy policies and practices.