BEAUFORT – The same areas along the North Carolina coast recognized for the winds that can generate power are also prone to hurricane-force winds that generate a force of their own.
That’s a concern for Carteret County resident Stephanie Miscovich, who lives near the site of a proposed wind energy project that would put three wind turbines in the Down East community of Bettie.
“We’re known for our winds but we’re also known for our extreme winds, and we need to take note of that,” she said.
Plans for the Golden Wind Farm project now before the N.C. Utilities Commission call for three windmills below 500 feet when measured from sea level to the highest reach of the blades.
It’s a small project compared with commercial wind farms operating around the country, but Miscovich said the turbines would tower high above homes that would be vulnerable should the industrial windmills malfunction, fall apart or be otherwise damaged during hurricanes or other storms.
She watched a recent video on YouTube that documents a turbine in Denmark that did just that during a storm and cites a recent report by GE Energy, a turbine manufacturer, that addresses the risks associated with wind turbines during extreme wind speed.
“Safety is my primary concern, and I feel like any wind farm in a hurricane-prone region should be designed to minimize the risk of collateral damage,” Miscovich said.
Miscovich said the public safety of such projects is an issue Carteret County needs to looks into, and a moratorium would give county leaders an opportunity to do just that.
The Board of Commissioners is considering a possible moratorium on permits or any approvals of the construction of electricity-generating windmills, towers and other similar structures so their impacts can be studied and any needed regulations adopted.
A public hearing to get residents’ input is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in the commissioners’ board room at the county administration building in Beaufort.
While the proposed Carteret County project isn’t a first, it would reportedly be the largest commercial-scale wind generation facility in North Carolina to date. And it comes on the heels of a new state law that requires that North Carolina utilities have a certain percentage of their power generated from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.
Nelson and Dianna Paul of Raleigh propose to build the wind turbines on 33 acres of land and are seeking permission from the N.C. Utilities Commission to generate the energy they would provide for public use. They would sell the power to Progress Energy.
Nelson Paul said the project is an opportunity to put the farm that has been in Dianna’s family for decades to a new use that he considers visionary and progressive in meeting the demand for alternative energy.
Before fossil fuels and the internal combustion engine were widely available, wind energy is what was used along coastal North Carolina communities to pump water, grind grain and saw wood.
In its modern version, Paul sees a possible new industry for Down East, where farming, fishing and other traditional industries have declined or been lost.
The Web site the Pauls created to inform people about the Golden Wind Farm states: “Wind energy development in North Carolina, particularly along the Carteret County coastline, has a strong historical precedent. Modern wind turbines are the natural evolution of that lost heritage. Wind energy is clean, trendy and progressive for the coastal areas in desperate need of new economic development and employment opportunities.”
But even with its vast wind resources, North Carolina is limited in terms of land that can actually be developed for this purpose, Paul said.
Their property in Bettie may not be the perfect site, he said via an e-mail interview last week, but it is uniquely positioned to meet the needs and they are dedicated to making it happen.
“The site has a combination of good wind, low or no environmental impact and available transmission lines,” Paul said. “I am not saying there may not be better sites, but where are they? And when you find them, will those owners be willing to tackle this process in order to offer up those sites?”
Paul said they, too, are concerned about safety, and, like houses and other buildings in Carteret County, the wind turbines would have to meet state building code requirements. Meeting those requirements mean turbines must be able to withstand three-second wind gusts of 130 miles per hour, which equates to 110-mile-per-hour sustained wind.
Paul said there are homes and buildings that would be destroyed at much lower wind speeds, and he believes the GE study of turbines at extreme speeds shows how tough they really are.
Turbines may be tough, but Ernest Filep, a Gloucester resident who owns property bordering the proposed Golden Wind Farm project, said they are not unbreakable.
“I know that mechanical things have a habit of breaking,” said Filep, who has been a machinist for more than 45 years.
The Bettie community is rural but it is not remote, open space, he said. Homes are located around the site where wind turbines more than twice as high as the Cape Lookout Lighthouse would stand.
That alone, makes the Bettie site less than ideal, Filep said.
“First and foremost, there are too many houses,” he said.
Filep said he’s not necessarily against wind energy when placed at a proper site, and he and residents have organized as Responsible Citizens for Responsible Energy in response to the plans for a wind farm in Bettie.
He said more than 200 signatures have been collected on a petition opposing the location of the turbines in Bettie and in support of a moratorium.
Public safety is a major concern, but the issue is a complex one involving many other issues as well, such as noise and vibrations, impacts on military airspace, potential harm to wildlife and the changes to the skyline and coastal landscape.
“We need answers to several questions and to do some serious thinking,” Filep said.
Paul feels a moratorium is an over-reaction, but he said it appears that is the direction in which the county is headed.
“The county commissioners have been seduced by the fear-mongers whose calling in life is to stop everything that appears to be visionary or progressive,” he said. “Most of the time in our country, the democratic process is really just a tyranny of a highly vocal minority. This is not the first time and it won’t be the last. A moratorium won’t be the end of our project. I am confident that history will treat us kinder than the present.”
By Jannette Pippin
Daily News Staff
2 March 2008
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