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Wind farm near Pocosin Lakes Refuge under fire

Environmental groups are fighting plans for an 11,000-acre wind energy farm to be built near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, saying the farm’s 492-foot windmills threaten thousands of migrating birds, The News & Observer reports this morning.

The N.C. Utilities Commission will hear arguments for and against Pantego Wind Energy’s plans at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in room 2115 of the Dobbs Building, 430 N. Salisbury St. in Raleigh.

Several environmental groups claim that giant blades of the Pantego Wind Energy farm’s turbines, which would spin at more than 100 mph, “will bat birds out of the sky as they fly to surrounding farms to forage during their winter migrations,” The N&O says.

The wind farm would consist of 49 turbines rising 492 feet to the tip of their blades. Some are to be built as close as three miles from the refuge while others would be more than 10 miles away.

Invenergy, the parent company of the farm, expects the 80-megawatt Pantego project to generate electricity between 25 percent and 36 percent of the time, according to the Friends of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Invenergy currently operates 1,200 turbines on 26 domestic wind farms.

The same groups complaining about the wind farm – the Southern Environmental Law Center, Sierra Club and Friends of Pocosin Lakes NWR – stopped the U.S. Navy from building an airfield near the Pocosin Lakes refuge a few years ago.

The refuge attracts more than 100,000 wintering snow geese, tundra swans, and many species of ducks, as well as tourists who travel to the Beaufort County refuge to see them.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has also suggested that the rotating blades could pose a danger to bats, songbirds, bald eagles and migrating waterfowl in the area, and the wind-energy company is counting birds until the end of the migration season in the spring, the newspaper says.

Many area landowners have already signed leases to let the company build turbines on their land, The N&O says. One quoted in the report says area farmers whose crops have been eaten by the wintering birds for years are looking forward to payments from the energy company.