The nation’s largest maker of windmill turbines applied to North Carolina’s Utility Commission during September for a permit to built 49 turbines to heights of 492 feet each on 11,000 acres of land in northern Beaufort County.
However, some worry about the impact of the proposed wind farm on wildlife.
The company, Pantego Wind Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Invenergy, claims its project would create an 80-megawatt wind farm that would share electricity with 12 other states, including North Carolina. PWE has promised cash-strapped Beaufort County could expect to see $1 million per year, including property taxes, lease payments to landowners and salaries to employees.
Tom Thompson of the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission already is on board with the plan, according to news reports. Invenergy and its affiliate companies already have signed lease agreements with 20 landowners inside the proposed project area.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission has scheduled a public hearing for Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. at the District Courtroom of the Beaufort County Courthouse. The hearing is the first of several meetings on the project set by the Commission as part of that panel’s review of the project.
Critics have pointed to several problems, not the least of which is the windmills – with blades turning at 200 mph – might be trouble for migratory waterfowl from nearby Pungo National Wildlife Refuge and other wildlife. Also, a successful project could result in more land might be gobbled up and more windmills erected, opponents say.
In a reprise of the Outlying Landing Field battle during which local residents fought with the U.S. Navy, which tried to put a practice landing field for carrier jets within spitting distance of Pungo Lake, many are worried not only about the effects the windmills would have on local wildlife, but how it would change residents’ ways of life.
“We fought the Navy for seven years and finally won that battle, and now somebody wants to do almost the same thing in nearly the same place,” said Joe Albea, producer of Carolina Outdoors Journal television show and a principle figure in the OLF fight. “It’s a ‘green’ industry and that’s good, but they want to site an industry at a place it doesn’t need to go.
“Our lawyers are ready to fight it.”
The Pungo refuge is one of the key Atlantic Flyway winter-resting areas for ducks, swans and geese. Thousands of waterfowl migrate to the region beginning in November and remain until March.
Albea and others are concerned that churning windmill blades might harm unknown numbers of bats, hawks, eagles and songbirds. Bats and birds have been killed at an astounding rate at other wind farms around the country and world, according to studies..
The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources already has reviewed PWE’s proposal and told the state Utilities Commission in a letter that information provided by PWE “was insufficient in identifying the potential impacts of this proposal.”
The proposed wind farm would be located between the communities of Terra Ceia and Pantego, only 10 to 15 miles from Pungo Lake. Farm fields in that area often are visited each morning by waterfowl, particularly snow geese, Canada geese and tundra swans that fly from Pungo Lake. The birds feed on excess grains left in fields after harvesting.
“I’ve seen as many as 10,000 tundra swans feeding at the same area they want to put wind mills,” Albea said.
Construction of an approved project could begin during the second quarter of 2012, and commercial operations could begin by December 2012, a PWE news release noted.
However, the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management, which carries out the mandates of the Coastal Area Management Act, has studied PWE’s proposal and basically rejected it in a letter to Gov. Beverly Perdue.
“We do not believe DCM has sufficient information to evaluate the proposed project and to make a recommendation to the (N.C. Utilities) Commission concerning the issuance of the certificate,” the agency wrote to Perdue. “DCM’s principal concern with the application is that it is devoid of environmental analysis.
“The applicant simply states ‘the proposed project area is a large undeveloped area used primarily for agriculture and forestry purposes.’ While this may be a valid statement, it does not address the potential the area may possess important environmental resources that may need to be considered in the planning and operation of this proposed facility.”
PWE also hasn’t done work to determine if the proposed wind farm will follow National Environmental Policy Act standards, the DCM study noted.
“It’s the same old, same old,” Albea said. “I’m not anti-business, but this has no business in northern Beaufort County. There are other places (in North Carolina) they could place it. (The region) is trying to promote eco-tourism, and it’s got one of the great eco-tourism spots on the East Coast, but this is counter to exactly what the region has been trying to do.
“(Beaufort County) has wrapped it up even more since the end of the OLF fight, and it needs more promotion by the state. Even though (PWE) is a green industry, you can’t put it in such a critical habitat for so many birds.”
A wind-farm study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (C. Peterson, H Seim, UNC Wind Power Feasibility Study, October 2010) also notes three major areas of concern not addressed by PWE’s application to the utilities commission:
• Risk assessment that combines abundance of local and migratory birds and bats and their behavior;
• Mortality risks from encounter with blades;
• Turbine avoidance can reduce fitness of migratory birds by loss of foraging habitat or by inducing longer flight paths.
The UNC study also recommended steps not suggested by PWE to reduce danger, including:
• Do not use continuous lighting.
• Flashing lights attract fewer migrating birds.
• Red lights may be less attractive than white lights.
• Reduce or eliminate perches on turbines.
• The absence of perches, nesting, and roosting sites decreases the frequency birds and bats closely approach wind mills.
• Avoid white colors. Paint wind mill vanes in high contrast patterns.
• White attracts insects; increased insect abundances attract bats.
• Tests show kestrels avoid moving wind mill vanes more readily if they have patterns painted on them.
• Pilot studies and impact studies after installation and operation of the first wind farm will demonstrate whether other mitigation procedures are needed
Changes in state law have created increased interest in renewable energy.
Envenergy sells its electricity to PJM Interconnection, a transmission organization that handles movement of wholesale electricity to Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, according to a company web site.
News reports indicate Invenergy is preparing to file applications with Virginia to start a similar project at Hales Lake. Invenergy and its companies have created 26 wind farms with a combined operating capacity of 2,436 megawatts, plus five natural gas-fueled generating facilities.
Written statements on the project may be filed with the Chief Clerk, N.C. Utilities Commission, 4325 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-4325.
Statements should be made in reference to:
Project: PANTEGO WIND ENERGY, LLC (EMP-61)
Docket No. EMP-61 Sub 0
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