Limits on wind farms OK'd


Peter Williams
The Perquimans Weekly

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A bill passed by the state Senate earlier this week that would severely limit new wind power projects in eastern North Carolina is based on false premises and will not become law this year, state Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, said on Friday.

The Senate, with the support of state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, passed House Bill 763, the Military Operations Protection Act, on Monday. Cook and other supporters of HB 763 say it’s necessary to ensure wind farm projects don’t encroach on military bases.

“In several cases, N.C. coastal wind energy development has come in direct conflict with preserving and protecting North Carolina’s military installations and their mission of maintaining the operation of N.C. military bases,” Cook said in an email last week.

Steinburg suggested, however, that HB 763 is unnecessary. He said the U.S. Department of Defense already has a system in place to ensure military bases’ air space isn’t encroached on. He also said HB 763 was pitched to the Senate as a pro-defense measure designed to protect military bases and training in the state, but that the map used to illustrate the need for urgency wasn’t accurate.

“I can’t support this bill, regardless of where I am on wind energy and solar energy,” Steinburg said Friday. “The fact of the matter is this bill (HB 763) was presented and sold under false pretenses and those that passed it didn’t have all the facts. The fact is, ethically knowing what I know, I can’t support a bill going over to the House that was not properly vetted.”

Steinburg predicted HB 763 will not be considered by the House in its current form — “It’s not going to happen,” he said. He believes the bill could be turned into a study, however. 

Both Steinburg and Cook agree that there have been concerns about wind farms and airspace for Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro. However Steinburg rejects the idea that the U.S. Coast Guard in Elizabeth City would be affected by wind projects underway in Pasquotank County and proposed for Perquimans and Chowan counties.

Steinburg said one Perquimans resident in fact made that claim when he called the lawmaker this week to ask him to lobby in support of HB 763.

“He was suggesting that the Coast Guard base was in jeopardy and I told him ‘no it’s not,’” Steinburg said. “Seymour Johnson is the base where there is a concern and we all have to work together to find a way that Seymour Johnson can conduct their training in a manner that is as safe as possible.”

Like Steinburg, wind energy officials and a representative of the N.C. Sierra Club said the Department of Defense already has a system to ensure military training is not affected by wind energy projects.

“No turbine is erected in this country without multiple military reviews, and the industry works closely with military leaders to responsibly develop projects that inject vital tax revenue and spending into communities while protecting sensitive military airspace,” said Kevin Chandler, a spokesman for Charlottesville, Va.-based Apex Clean Energy.

Apex wants to build a project known as Timbermill that would straddle the Perquimans-Chowan county line.

Paul Copleman, a spokesman for Iberdrola Renewables, agreed that infringing on military airspace is something his company already takes seriously. Iberdrola is building the Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East project in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties.

“We look at this as an issue regardless,” Copleman said. “We always coordinate with the Department of Defense. I can’t speak to this specific bill, but we coordinate with DoD regardless of what the law says.”

Melissa Dickerson, a regional director for the N.C. Sierra Club, also questioned the need for HB 763.

Dickerson said the bill goes beyond just making sure jets and helicopters can fly without fear of hitting a wind turbine. It includes language that gives the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services power over wind turbines because of health issues. The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs would also get veto power over wind projects.

“It’s a concern for us in that it gives the agencies veto power over projects,” she said. "Some senators appear to be seeking to prevent any new wind projects in eastern North Carolina. This measure (HB 763) needlessly pits major clean energy investment and economic development in some of North Carolina’s rural counties against protection of the state’s current and future military interests.”

Steinburg said he’s not “pro wind” but he’s also not opposed to alternative energy either. He thinks alternative energy will be part of the nation’s future energy mix, so it’s counterproductive to try and fight it.

“I support economic development, that’s what I support,” Steinburg said. “I’m the last guy you’d see hugging a tree. I’m a fossil fuel guy, but I’m also a realist. We shouldn’t be fighting alternative energy. We should be finding a way to incorporate alternative energy in our current energy matrix. We’ve got to find a way to co-existing, that’s my goal.”

Steinburg said the economic benefits for counties with wind projects is a big deal. The Iberdrola project in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties will be the largest taxpayer in both counties. The same can be said of the Apex Clean Energy project in Perquimans and Chowan counties, Steinburg said.

“Fossil fuel facilities are being decommissioned all the time and they’re not being rebuilt,” he said. “You can like alternative energy or you can hate it, but that’s the direction where we are going and you can either choose to be a part of it or choose to walk away.”

Steinburg said he doesn’t dismiss the concerns of those in the area who don’t want to see wind turbines built in their county.

“I’m not saying their arguments aren’t valid. I get that, I truly do. But we have to find a way to co-exist. That’s my goal,” he said.