A group of North Carolina senators have, once again, introduced a measure critics are describing as wind-killing legislation.
The bill, called the Military Operations Protection Act of 2017, is similar to legislation that never made it out of committee last year. The law would put a moratorium on the consideration of new permit applications for both onshore and offshore wind energy facilities, pending General Assembly studies on the impact of wind turbines on military operations.
North Carolina currently has one operational utility-scale wind farm. The 104-turbine project was developed by Avangrid Renewables and spans Pasquotank and Perquimans counties, powering Amazon Web Services. Avangrid recently won rights to develop a 122,000-acre offshore tranche more than 20 miles off the coast of Kitty Hawk, but that project is years away from coming to fruition, bill or no bill.
What lawmakers are saying:
Sen. Louis Pate (R-Lenoir, Pitt, Wayne), a sponsor of the act, calls the Amazon wind farm “sudden,” and questions whether the Pentagon had ever “signed off” on the project. When told that the Department of Defense has to give approval before turbines can be erected, he says questions remain about the federal approval given to Avangrid.
Read: Turf wars: The years-long effort that led to the Amazon wind farm
“Was there enough in-depth study behind that?” he asks. “Was there political pressure? We don’t know what led to that decision. I don’t know if there’s been an awful lot of discussion in North Carolina yet.”
His support for the measure is based on his concerns about military issues, not any expressed to him by the military, he says.
Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth, Yadkin), however, says she’s heard from military service members concerned about the turbines, and that’s what prompted her sponsorship of the bill. She fears that when future base realignment decisions are made, North Carolina’s turbines could influence decisions to consolidate operations out of the state.
“We want to make certain that doesn’t ever happen to North Carolina,” she says, reiterating that it’s a moratorium only, and that she’s happy about sustainable energy investments being made in the state.
Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jones, Onslow), majority leader and primary sponsor, declined to speak on the bill, but emailed the Triangle Business Journal a statement: “The bill is simple. It puts a moratorium on any more wind development until a map can be produced that makes it clear where wind energy can be located in the state without affecting military training surrounding our bases.”
Rep. Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan), an outspoken opponent of previously filed versions of the measure, says he’s not surprised to see it resurface this session. And once again, he opposes the measure. Chowan County recently approved what could be North Carolina’s second utility-scale wind farm.
“The military has addressed, satisfactorily and adequately, in my estimation, all of the concerns anyone might have as it relates to the location of these turbines moving forward," he says.
The 2017 bill focuses on concerns about turbines impacting military training flight paths.
Last year’s bill was broader, asking that developers provide copies of noise and shadow flicker studies so that the state can review “potential health effects.” Those issues weren’t addressed in what was filed Tuesday. Nor were turbines' impact on military radar installations, a claim that, despite being dismissed by military officials, was the subject of a letter lawmakers (including Pate and Brown) sent the Trump administration in January.
What developers are saying:
Don Giecek, senior project developer at Apex Clean Energy, says in an email that "a moratorium is clearly unnecessary and puts at risk rural economic investment and undercuts the existing working relationship between developers and the military.”
He points to the Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse, which has reviewed over 2,000 wind projects nationwide. “No project opposed by the military has been built since the Clearinghouse was created,” he says.
Paul Copleman, spokesman for Avangrid, says in an email that the company was reviewing the legislation and would provide input “as appropriate.”
“We are committed to ensuring our renewable energy development and operations are fully compatible with the mission and operations at military installations,” he says.