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Avangrid to pursue solar project near wind farm

Avangrid Renewables Wind Farm Elizabeth City

Andrew Makee, business developer for Avangrid Renewables, speaks about the Amazon wind farm and renewable energy during the Elizabeth City Morning Rotary Club meeting held Friday at the YMCA at the Pines north of Elizabeth City. Makee fielded questions about the wind farm and also said the company is now pursuing solar, rather than wind, projects in the area.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Oregon-based company that owns the 104-turbine Amazon Wind Farm US East in Pasquotank County doesn’t plan to build any additional wind turbines at the site, but instead will pursue a solar farm near the wind farm, a company official said last week.

Andrew Makee, manager of business development for Avangrid Renewables, told members of the Elizabeth City Morning Rotary Club on Friday that the solar project will be located in the “desert” of Pasquotank — possibly co-located with the 22,000-acre wind farm.

Makee said Avangrid is still months away from submitting a solar permit to Pasquotank County, and he declined to discuss the details of the project, such as its size, specific location, and generating capacity.

Makee, the featured speaker at the Rotary Club’s weekly breakfast meeting at YMCA at The Pines, fielded questions about the wind farm that's been spinning in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties since early 2017, and discussed the company's plans for the future.

Makee recounted that Avangrid — then known as Iberdrola — was first drawn to northern Pasquotank and Perquimans' desert region because of its good wind speeds and its abundance of land far from homes or other properties that might conflict with wind turbines.

Years of development, and working with almost two dozen agencies across local, state and federal government led to today's wind farm, which includes 104 turbines that, counting blades, stretch to almost 500 feet tall.

Makee noted those turbines are becoming somewhat dated, as the wind industry is now looking at turbines around 100 feet taller, and that can spin at slightly lower wind speeds. He explained the Amazon Wind Farm US East's turbines generate power at about 9 mph and up. They are also controlled remotely from a facility in Portland, Oregon, where they can be shut down for maintenance, or when wind speeds get too high.

Makee also said that, while Avangrid can replace blades and motors, it cannot replace existing wind turbines with newer, taller models. Those would need new, very large foundations. Makee noted each current turbine's foundation represents about 60 truckloads' worth of concrete.

A Rotarian also asked about the layout of the wind farm's turbines.

Property leases are the first decider of turbines' locations, Makee noted, adding that turbines must be tall, and spaced out, to capture steady winds. Winds are more broken up, or turbulent, and close to the ground. Wind also needs space to recollect as it passes from one turbine to the next, he explained.

Makee also explained how the wind farm's power is sold. Amazon Web Services announced in 2015 it would buy the farm's electricity, and Makee explains the power effectively offsets the energy use of an Amazon data center in Ohio.

The wind farm does not send electricity directly to the data center. Instead, its power is added to a regional grid — that of PJM Interconnection, a 13-state regional transmission organization — for its needs. As purchaser of the wind farm's power, Amazon gets credit for its renewable energy production, he said.

Makee likened the approach to adding water to a bucket. When someone adds to the bucket, they're entitled to the amount they put in, but can't back the specific droplets they added.

Makee also addressed criticisms and misperceptions about wind power. A Rotarian asked about claims that Avangrid has offered fairly short-term leases with the intent to seize people's land. Makee said the company has leased land for at least 30 years, with options to extend, and worked to make sure property owners and their potential heirs supported those leases.

Makee said public concerns over leases and turbine locations are often a result of companies not doing enough research into turbine sites. Makee said Avangrid extensively studies sites for renewable energy before proposing wind or solar facilities. The company also considers adjacent properties and numerous environmental factors before making any siting decisions.

Audience members also asked about military radar — one of the most high-profile challenges the Amazon wind farm had to work through. After working with the Navy and the Department of Defense's siting clearinghouse, the company agreed to build only 104 turbines, down from 150 first proposed, and study their impact once operational.

Makee also told the audience that Avangrid worked with the Navy's Chesapeake, Virginia-based Northwest Annex, which runs a long-range radar system for surveillance spanning well into the southern Atlantic, to modify its software to factor out the “noise” of the turbines' electrical, spinning components.

Today, the wind farm causes no interference at all, he also said.

In a followup email, Paul Copleman, a spokesman for Avangrid, provided a report that indicates the wind farm’s "average measured ... interference levels are consistent with model predictions." In other words, the interference with the radar is within predicted, acceptable levels, not non-existent.

In focusing now on solar over wind in Pasquotank, Makee said that, in the southeastern United States, solar energy is much cheaper to produce than wind power.

Avangrid is also exploring solar power as state senators, particularly Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, push for a ban on future wind farms in much of eastern North Carolina. Asked about a potential ban, Makee reiterated the company's opposition to such measures, but said he needed to know more details to comment further.

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