Plans for a multi-million dollar wind farm in the Albemarle fanned local officials’ hopes in 2011, but some fear the breeze may be changing direction.
The year began with strong prospects for a big investment in wind energy locally.
In January, Portland, Ore.-based Iberdrola Renewables announced plans for a $600 million wind farm in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.
Plans called for 150 utility-scale wind turbines capable of generating power for 70,000 homes a year.
The momentum appeared to gain strength in the following months.
In May, the company, operating as Atlantic Wind, cleared a major hurdle with approval from the N.C. Utilities Commission. Only a few obstacles appeared to be in the way. The company still needed local permits for roads, substations, and other facilities before beginning construction of the project on sparsely populated farmland known as “the Desert.”
By June, local officials sought to sweeten the deal for the renewable energy company.
Officials in both counties approved an incentive package to encourage the new enterprise that promised to pump millions of dollars into the local economy.
Area officials estimated the project would generate $1 million a year in land leases to local landowners. In addition, the project was expected to generate 300 temporary construction jobs – offering a much-needed jump start to a stagnant economy ridden with high unemployment.
Later in the year, however, the project lost some of its force as Atlantic Wind struggled to find a utility willing to buy electricity the turbines would.
Iberdrola officials stated the company could not begin building until it found a buyer.
By December, company representatives met with landowners privately to discuss concerns about the project.
The delay in securing a buyer meant the company would not meet its 2012 construction deadline. Even worse, the delay meant the company would no longer be eligible for federal tax credits it had counted on to finance the project.
The secrecy of the meetings with landowners in December fed local fears that the project may be scaled back – perhaps dramatically – from the original plan.
Company officials said they still wanted to pursue the full-scale project, but did not rule out the possibility of downsizing the project.
The uncertainty of the project appears to have left another proposed wind project fluttering in the wind.
Iberdrola confirmed in May that it had been seeking lease agreements with property owners in the Hales Lake area for another project straddling Camden and Currituck counties.
A company official said the project would be secondary to the project in Pasquotank and Perquimans.
A competitor also announced plans last spring for a wind farm in Camden and Currituck counties, close to where Iberdrola was seeking lease agreements.
Eric Miller, director of Chicago-based wind energy company Invenergy, confirmed in late May that the company had secured 30 leases covering more than 15,000 acres of farmland in the Hales Lake area, extending north toward Moyock and east toward Shawboro.
Miller said the company planned to submit permit applications to state and local governments by year’s end.
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