The state Senate again has passed a moratorium on wind energy in North Carolina, and it's again causing blow-back in the House.
The Senate on Wednesday passed an amended version of House Bill 589, an energy reform bill that’s a high priority for Republican leadership, that would forbid permits for wind projects through Dec. 31, 2020.
This latest attempt at passing the moratorium follows standalone legislation, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, that stalled out in the House and Senate. Senators then tried and failed to get it inserted into the state's final budget. Published reports state Brown inserted the moratorium language into the energy bill.
The General Assembly's website also shows state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, voted for HB589 and Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, voted against it. Cook represents all area counties but Chowan in the Senate; Smith-Ingram represents Chowan.
The moratorium would be a major setback for wind projects in northeastern North Carolina, including Apex Clean Energy's proposed Timbermill project in Perquimans and Chowan and the Little Alligator wind farm in Tyrrell County. The moratorium would allow the Amazon Wind Farm US East in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties to continue to operate, however.
As he has argued in the past, Brown claimed in published reports the state needs time to study wind projects' potential impact on military operations, such as whether they'd interfere with flight paths. Otherwise the state risks military readiness and the state's second largest “industry,” Brown told The Associated Press.
In an email Thursday, Cook echoed that argument, claiming the moratorium is “about our responsibility to protect the investment the U.S. military has made in our state.” He noted North Carolina has the state’s third-largest military force and the military contributes $66 billion to the gross state product.
Notably, wind projects are already required to receive federal permitting, including from the Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse, and opponents of the moratorium argue existing processes protect the military's interests. The debate played out at length over the Amazon wind farm after Brown, Cook, and other lawmakers called
for the project to be shut down over concerns it would cause interference with the U.S. Navy’s radar facility in Chesapeake.
State Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, said he opposes the wind farm moratorium. He said Thursday he's been informed it will be pulled from the energy bill. House leaders spent months negotiating the reforms in that bill — earning support from Duke Energy, solar power companies, and other stakeholders — and they want to see a “clean” bill passed. It's his understanding that senators will insert the moratorium into another bill, Steinburg added.
Steinburg also said he believed that, even if the House and Senate both passed a wind moratorium, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, would veto it and there wouldn't be enough Republicans to override him.
Steinburg said Brown is on a “crusade” against wind energy, based on what Steinburg considers “unsubstantiated fears” that wind projects could influence the military’s BRAC, or base realignment and closure, process.
State Rep. Howard Hunter III, D-Hertford, has also opposed the wind moratorium. He said in an email Thursday that he has confidence that House Republican Conference Leader and bill sponsor Rep. John Szoka, R-Cumberland, would handle the matter.
“Rep. Szoka stated that the conferees are working on the matter,” Hunter said. “He's a great guy and will do what is best for the wind industry, I believe.”
The chairmen of the boards of commissioners for Pasquotank and Perquimans counties couldn't be reached for comment Thursday on the moratorium. Pasquotank commissioners have strongly defended the Amazon wind farm, however, and criticized Cook for opposing the project.
The chairman and vice chairman of the Chowan Board of Commissioners, Jeff Smith and Greg Bonner, declined comment on the moratorium Thursday. Smith noted he's a landowner involved in the Timbermill project, and said any comments he made could be construed as biased.
Asked about the moratorium Thursday, Apex spokesman Don Giecek labeled it as an “attack” on wind investment. Every turbine built in the U.S. is reviewed by the military, he said, in addition to North Carolina's own permitting process also considering impacts to military installations.”
“This moratorium is instead a clear attack on clean energy that's designed to discourage investment in rural counties,” he said