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Study: No more turbines at wind farm

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A new study completed last month by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory recommends adding no more turbines to the 104 already at the Amazon Wind Farm US East site in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, July 12, 2018

No more wind turbines should be added to the Amazon Wind Farm US East that straddles Pasquotank and Perquimans counties, a new military study recommends.

Going beyond the wind farm's current 104 turbines “is not compatible with the relocatable over-the-horizon radar system” at the Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads-Northwest Annex in Chesapeake, Virginia, according to the study completed last month by a military siting clearinghouse, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, and others.

A Navy spokeswoman provided The Daily Advance a summary of the report this week.

The ROTHR system is used for long-range surveillance, particularly to combat drug trafficking across the Caribbean and South America.

The study's conclusion offers good news and bad news for Avangrid Renewables, the wind farm's developer. The study found “wind energy farm interference levels were consistent with model predictions,” and the current turbines are within the interference threshold allowed under a 2014 agreement between the military and Avangrid. That agreement also called for studying the wind farm once it was operational; the study notes operational data was collected in January and July of 2017.

Avangrid has said it hopes to build another 46 turbines, but the study states “no additional turbines can be added to this renewable energy site.” That statement appears to rule out adding turbines even if further away from ROTHR than the current turbines. Those turbines are between about 14 and 24 miles away from the ROTHR receiver, according to the study.

Paul Copleman, a spokesman for Avangrid, said his firm is still reviewing the report.

“But it does affirm our cooperative work with the Navy on this matter and appropriate siting of the 104 operational turbines,” he said.

Pasquotank and Perquimans counties do stand to lose additional revenue if no additional turbines are built. With the turbines comes short-term construction dollars, plus increased property tax revenue for the county and lease payments to participating landowners.

“Yeah, I'm a little bit disheartened that can't take place,” Pasquotank Board of Commissioners Chairman Vice Chairman Bill Sterritt said in response to the report.

The additional turbines would have been good for the economy, he said. However, he also said “we have to look at the bigger picture” and “consider the welfare of the nation.”

Commissioners Lloyd Griffin and Charles Jordan were more reserved about the study. Griffin said the county needs to support the military, and he's been concerned the wind farm isn't paying its “fair share” in property taxes. County commissioners approved major property tax breaks to help Avangrid afford the project, but even with those breaks, it paid Pasquotank $260,000 in taxes last fiscal year.

Jordan said it wasn't clear yet how the study would affect Pasquotank. He also said the county hasn't had discussions yet about more turbines.

Commissioner Frankie Meads said he considered the wind farm of limited economic benefit to the county. Though he said the existing turbines should be allowed to operate, he also said the military has long voiced concerns about radar interference from the wind farm.

Though the military reviewed the project — leading Avangrid to shrink it from 150 to the current 104 turbines — Meads claims “the Navy was not allowed to tell the truth” about how much interference the farm is causing.

Commissioner Joe Winslow took the study's conclusion in stride. It would have been nice to have more turbines in the future, but Avangrid has already invested $400 million in Pasquotank and Perquimans, he said.

Winslow also said he believes it would be much more expensive to build the remaining 46 turbines, due to land quality. Even before the study came out, he said he didn't expect to Avangrid to build more turbines anytime soon.

Speaking from an economic standpoint, Pasquotank County Manager Sparty Hammett said the study's finding was a disappointment “for sure.” Though not disputing the study, he noted more turbines means more revenue for government services.

Perquimans County Manager Frank Heath didn't call the study a disappointment, but noted Perquimans receives about $8,000 in tax revenue per turbine. Avangrid had planned to add more than a dozen turbines to the Perquimans side of the wind farm. That would have generated revenue equivalent to about 1 cent's worth of the county's property tax rate, he said.

Heath also said he hasn't received a copy of the full study yet, but is working to get and review it.

The executive summary of the report is available with the online version of this story.

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