March 20, 2011
North Carolina

Wind energy on the horizon in North Carolina

By Jeff Hampton, The Virginian-Pilot, 20 March 2011

North Carolina’s first large-scale wind farm, with more than 100 towers taller than a grain elevator, is working its way through a long permitting process with little opposition.

Atlantic Winds LLC, a subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, plans to erect up to 150 turbines with blades reaching more than 500 feet in the air within 20,000 acres of remote farmland in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.

At a hearing held by the state Utilities Commission on March 10 in Elizabeth City, local officials and landowners spoke highly of the project. At another hearing set for April 5 in Raleigh, only supporters of the project, including the developer, are set to speak.

“To me, the positive far outweighs any negative,” farmer Horace Pritchard said. “We’ve done a lot of research.”

Pritchard plans to lease 1,300 acres to Atlantic Winds within the farming area known as the Desert. Several landowners are involved in the deal.

Nearly 600 workers would be needed for construction of the project, according to company’s application to the Utilities Commission.

When finished, the facility would have a capacity of 300 megawatts and produce enough to power about 60,000 homes. The wind-generated electricity would flow into a Dominion Power transmission line that runs from Winfall to Suffolk.

Private investment would reach about $787 million, according to a study by the North Carolina Department of Commerce. The facility would need about 19 permanent workers who would earn approximately $100,000 annually.

Landowners will be paid $3,000 per megawatt or $6,000 per turbine per year, Pritchard said. Each turbine takes up about a 50-by-100-foot space on the ground. The lease payment more than makes up for the lost cropland, Pritchard said.

“We’re going to farm right around it,” he said.

One thousand acres supports approximately 10 turbines, he said.

At the March 10 hearing, only one speaker opposed the project.

“You can’t count on wind for reliable electricity,” Manny Medeiros of Kill Devil Hills told members of the Utilities Commission. “Wind simply cannot provide robust, reliable, concentrated, industrial-strength power for the country’s growth.”

In wind farm projects proposed across the country, opponents have spoken out against noise, loss of property values and harm to wildlife, among other problems. In Pasquotank County, only a few houses would be within sight of a tower.

In comments filed March 8 with the Utilities Commission, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission had concerns over whether the farmland would continue to be useful as a winter feeding area for migrating waterfowl.

Officials with the state Division of Coastal Management wrote March 7 that the application did not give enough detail to determine its impact on the environment. The project might require an extensive environmental study.

The company could need 18 federal, state and local permits over the next year. Plans are to begin construction in early 2012 and begin operation by January 2013.

The surge in wind energy projects came in part from $577 million in federal grants and a favorable regulatory environment. North Carolina law requires that investor-owned utilities produce up to 12.5 percent of their power needs through renewable energy or energy-saving practices by 2021.

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