There may be gold blowing in the wind if a Raleigh couple succeeds in building a wind farm in Carteret County to help meet North Carolina’s need for renewable energy.
Nelson and Dianna Paul are seeking permission from the N.C. Utilities Commission to build three windmills in coastal Carteret County that would generate 4.5 megawatts of electricity – enough to provide power for about 900 homes. By far the state’s largest commercial-scale wind farm to date, it would sell power to Progress Energy to help the utility provide more green energy.
The Golden Wind Farm is small as wind projects go, but the Pauls may be the first of a wave of green energy entrepreneurs seeking to fill the need for alternative energy. North Carolina leaders passed a law last year requiring utilities to meet 12.5 percent of energy demand by 2020 with cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar power.
“The project is needed because wind power is a renewable resource,” Paul told the State Utilities Commission during a hearing Tuesday. The commission made no immediate decision on the proposal.
Though most support the need for cleaner energy, neighbors in Bettie, a rural community about seven miles northeast of Beaufort, objected to the project. They contend that the towering wind turbines would be noisy and unattractive, and would spoil the enjoyment of their property. The turbines, including the blades, could stand up to 464 feet high – more than twice the height of the Cape Lookout lighthouse, the familiar sentinel on the Outer Banks, and taller even than the 30-story Wachovia Capitol Center in downtown Raleigh.
“You’re going to be able to see it from Beaufort and Morehead City,” said Brady Golden, who lives across from the property. “Highway 70 is a scenic highway. There are a lot of questions the people of Bettie have.”
Ernest Filep of Gloucester, who owns property next to the site, said he hoped the Utilities Commission would consider the residents when it makes a decision. The neighbors expressed concern that if the project is permitted, more entrepreneurs would seek to build windmills on the coast.
The residents’ concerns prompted Carteret County commissioners to call a special meeting today to discuss a moratorium to halt new towers, electricity-generating windmills and similar tall structures from going up in the county.
County Manager John Langdon said county leaders wanted to talk about whether to call a time out and investigate the pros and cons of tall structures.
“We don’t have any zoning ordinances about wind turbines,” Langdon said.
Paul, a real estate broker and former environmental consultant, said the 33-acre tract of open land between Ward Creek and North River was property that had been in his wife’s family. He said it’s ideally situated with good wind and already has power transmission lines nearby. He assured commission members that the windmills were designed to withstand hurricane-force winds of up to 123 miles an hour.
Paul said neighbors’ aesthetic objections were subjective, noting that he and his wife view windmills of this scale as having “a graceful, attractive, industrial artlike quality.”
Paul said he had reviewed several years of wind data from the airfield in Beaufort but still needed to do a wind analysis of the actual site to determine how high to build the structures and whether the project is economically feasible.
He has estimated the cost of the project at $6 million and said it could start generating power by 2010.
Representatives of the U.S. Marine Corps have expressed concern that the wind turbines could interfere with radar and hamper aircraft operations at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.
Paul said in testimony that the project is too small, and is far enough away, at 18 miles from Cherry Point, to cause harm to the base.
The Marine Corps agreed not to object to the state utilities commission endorsing the project but asked that the Federal Aviation Administration also review the project and have final approval.
Representatives of the N.C. Public Staff, which advocates for the public before the Utilities Commission, said wind energy can benefit North Carolina’s environment. The energy source produces no pollutants or greenhouse gases, unlike coal-burning power plants that are frequently cited as major contributors to global warming.
Public Staff is recommending that the utilities commission grant a permit to the wind farm with the caveat that the Pauls obtain all FAA approvals. The commission is expected to issue a permit decision in the next several months, but the FAA will still have the final word.
Brent Summerville, project manager for the Energy Center at Appalachian State University, said the nearest large-scale wind farm is run by Tennessee Valley Authority at Buffalo Mountain in Tennessee.
To date, the projects permitted in North Carolina are small. Blackwater Worldwide, the private security contractor based in Moyock, has installed a 50-kilowatt wind turbine to help reduce its $40,000-a-month power bills at its training facility.
“We’ll be excited to see the first megawatt-class wind generators go into the ground,” Summerville said. “That is certainly a milestone.”
By Wade Rawlins
6 February 2008
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