House leader 'reassured' on wind farm
By Jon Hawley
Friday, February 24, 2017
The Amazon Wind Farm US East should be allowed to continue operating, a leading House Republican said Thursday after touring the Navy's long-range radar facility in Chesapeake, Virgina.
Rep. John Szoka, R-Cumberland, said in a phone interview Thursday he plans to report on lawmakers' visit to the Northwest Annex to House Speaker Tim Moore.
Szoka, GOP House conference leader, said he joined state Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, and state Reps. George Cleveland and Michael Speciale on the tour.
The lawmakers' visit follows in the wake of a letter Moore and nine other lawmakers, including state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, sent to the incoming Trump administration, calling for the Amazon wind farm to be shut down over concerns it would interfere with long-range surveillance through the Navy's “relocatable over-the-horizon radar,” or ROTHR, receiver at Northwest Annex.
The letter, penned weeks before the wind farm became operational, outraged some local officials who said they felt “blindsided” by the letter and have adamantly defended the $400 million project.
Szoka, a retired Army lieutenant colonel with a master's degree in mechanical engineering, said the Navy answered all of his questions during Thursday’s tour, including those concerning the computer modeling that helped convince the Navy in 2014 to allow the wind project to proceed.
“I felt reassured,” Szoka said, adding he “felt good” about the wind farm's review process.
Based on conversations with naval officers, Szoka also said he believes the wind farm's developer, Avangrid Renewables, had “dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s” in planning the project. Avangrid started developing the project around 2010.
Szoka also said his “takeaway” from the Navy was that wind farm's impacts were minimal and acceptable.
The Navy's 2014 agreement with Avangrid allows the wind farm to operate, but also provides that the Navy will review operational data and try to work with the developer to fix any issues that arise. Szoka called that approach “entirely appropriate.”
Notably, Moore, the House speaker, released a statement after recently touring the wind farm softening his opposition to the project.
Szoka said Thursday he believes the speaker “was asked to sign the letter when a lot was going on,” and didn't know exactly what it was asking for. Asked if the speaker or other lawmakers should send a followup letter to Department of Defense officials, Szoka said he'd discuss it with Moore.
Steinburg said he feels “optimistic” about the wind farm's future after Thursday’s tour. Naval officers answered lawmakers' questions in detail, he said, and didn't express concerns about the wind farm or call for its closure.
Steinburg also said the Navy officials made clear the military tries to work with renewable energy developers so their projects don't conflict with national security. Officers also described Avangrid as “extremely cooperative” in working with them, he said.
Steinburg also said he and other lawmakers look forward to reporting on the Northwest Annex tour “straight out of the horse's mouth” to other lawmakers. Asked if he believes Moore or other lawmakers should release a followup letter, Steinburg said that's their decision.
Steinburg also noted that, regardless of lawmakers' position on the wind farm, it cannot be shut down on a whim. The Department of Defense and Navy have agreed to let the farm operate save for a defined, temporary national security emergency.
“Everything has to be documented to the Nth degree,” Steinburg said.
Cook could not attend Thursday’s tour due to a conflicting committee meeting in Raleigh, a spokesman for his office said.