Op-Ed

Wind power still under threat in North Carolina

Wind turbines would be against the law in 85 percent of eastern North Carolina if a GOP bill passes next year.
Wind turbines would be against the law in 85 percent of eastern North Carolina if a GOP bill passes next year. AP

In each of the last five years, we have seen numerous attempts by the Republican-led General Assembly to erode environmental protections and undermine the fantastic growth in our clean energy sector. Some have succeeded, some have failed, but the efforts have been relentless.

In this previous short session, one of the more notable of these was Sen. Harry Brown’s attempt to ban the construction of wind energy projects in the vast majority of the state, in particular eastern North Carolina, where the most suitable winds are located.

While this bill failed to pass out of the N.C. House this year, Brown has promised to bring it back again next year. When he does, it needs to go to the Rules Committee or wherever the muckety-mucks decide is the best place for it to die a slow, legislative death.

While it’s apparent to those of us who follow environmental issues closely that this bill is, at its core, just another attempt to stifle renewable energy, the reasoning given is to protect military air space. To keep flight paths clear of obstructions.

What Brown failed to tell his colleagues in the N.C. Senate is: The FAA is the primary “decider” of what constitutes an obstruction to flight paths in the entirety of U.S. air space. It has to be, because it is responsible for civilian aircraft, government aircraft, foreign carriers who service American airports, etc.

The FAA has an entire division dedicated to potential obstructions, including a section that deals specifically with wind turbines. An FAA permit is required before you can even break ground on a wind energy project, and each turbine is assessed individually, not just the whole project. In other words, the implication that state government needed to step in and solve this problem is categorically untrue.

What’s also untrue is Brown’s statement that the Military Affairs Committee has been contemplating this issue for years. While the committee might have been created out of 2013 legislation, it’s really only been formally active for less than a year. And as recently as February, flight path obstructions didn’t make its list of priorities.

By May the issue was included in its long list of priorities, and it had developed a map of flight paths with which it was concerned. But that initial committee map had only three colors (red, yellow, green) designating potential flight paths. These corridors were already large enough; encompassing close to half of eastern North Carolina’s geographical footprint.

But that wasn’t enough for Harry Brown. The map that emerged from the General Assembly had magically sprouted two more colors (orange, dark grey), effectively blocking wind farms in about 85 percent of eastern North Carolina.

While you’re contemplating politicians who would use the military to further other agendas, like the destruction of the clean energy sector, contemplate this also: I am not anti-military. Not only do I support our bases in North Carolina, I’ve trained at most of them. I was stationed at Ft. Bragg for several years, and I’ve made 69 jumps out of both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. I lost a couple of very good friends in North Africa when their helicopter got tangled in some power lines.

I know, probably a lot better than Harry Brown, just what’s at stake on this issue. There is room for both military operations and renewable energy, including wind turbines, in the future of our great state.

Steve Harrison is a senior administrator at the progressive website BlueNC.

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