Senate budget includes wind energy halt


Wind turbines at the Amazon Wind Farm US East project are shown, Thursday, Dec. 1. The state Senate's proposed budget for next year includes a moratorium until 2021 on any new wind farm development in the state.


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The N.C. Senate's proposed state budget includes a moratorium on state approval of any new wind energy projects that is expected to meet stiff opposition in the state House.

Released Tuesday, the Senate's proposed $22.9 billion budget would define state spending for the coming year while advancing various policy priorities. Among those priorities is a halt on the state's wind industry for three years to allow for what the Senate describes as “ample time” for the General Assembly to study the impact wind farms an energy infrastructure would have on the state's military operations. The moratorium would extend through Dec. 31, 2020.

Senators proposed a near identical measure in a standalone bill in March, with bill sponsors, including Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, claiming the bill was necessary to safeguard military facilities and their major contribution to the state economy.

A Cook spokesman said the senator still supports the moratorium, but didn't provide further comment as of presstime Wednesday night.

Cook was among the Republican lawmakers who earlier this year called for the shutdown of the Amazon Wind Farm US East project over concerns it interfered with a U.S. Navy radar facility in Chesapeake, Virginia. The effort, which included a letter to incoming U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, appears to have fizzled out after some House lawmakers walked back their opposition to the wind farm.

Though not speaking in context of the moratorium, Cook said at the time that “taxpayer-subsidized wind projects that create few jobs for North Carolinians should not take priority over hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars that we could jeopardize if we fail to stand up for our military.”

Other local lawmakers oppose the moratorium, however, pointing out state and federal processes already protect the military's interests in developing wind projects.

“This provision is unnecessary and was not provided at the request of the military,” state Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, said in an email.

The Department of Defense supports the state's existing wind farm legislation, she said, claiming the DOD Siting Clearinghouse “only approves installations that have zero impact on military operations and base realignment and closure.”

Smith-Ingram said she “adamantly” opposes the moratorium provision in the Senate budget, calling it “unconscionable” to risk “almost $500 million of economic investments in rural eastern North Carolina” by halting wind projects.

Smith-Ingram represents Chowan County, where Apex Clean Energy has county approval to locate part of its $400 million Timbermill wind farm. Notably, Perquimans County commissioners voted against awarding the Apex project a conditional use permit for the part of the project proposed for Perquimans. Apex is contesting that decision in Superior Court.

State Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, also said he opposes the moratorium —  as he did when it was proposed in a standalone bill. Senators may have put the moratorium into the budget — which must be approved to continue state services — to either force its passage or use it as a “bargaining chip,” he suggested.

“It will again be a bone of contention,” Steinburg said, adding that he will push to remove the provision from the budget and oppose the budget if it is not.

Steinburg also said that, if Gov. Roy Cooper vetoes the budget over the provision, there may not be enough votes in the House to override his veto.

“This could be a real impediment to passing the budget,” he said.

Steinburg also said that he considers wind projects a major benefit to struggling rural counties. They provide significant tax revenues while state lawmakers work to create long-term jobs there, he explained. He also noted that wind companies won't sit around waiting for a moratorium to expire, and other states will welcome their investments.

State Rep. Howard Hunter III, D-Hertford, also said in a brief email that he supports wind energy and opposes any moratorium on the industry.

Apex spokesman Don Giecek said his company also opposes the moratorium, calling it “clearly designed to kill wind projects.”

“It jeopardizes hundreds of millions of dollars in investment in rural North Carolina and is an attack on personal property rights,” he said.

Giecek said Apex is already paying local landowners to lease their properties and taking steps to develop its Timbermill project.

A spokesman for Avangrid Renewables, which developed the Amazon wind farm and is considering offshore wind development near Kitty Hawk, said the company is still reviewing the moratorium's language.