August 4, 2012
North Carolina

North Carolina wind projects stalled; buyers, activists blamed

By Jeff Hampton | The Virginian-Pilot | 4 August 2012

Three large wind-energy projects in North Carolina that promised jobs and electricity for thousands of homes have stalled, facing hurdles ranging from a lack of power purchasers to migrating swans.

Though it was proposed more than a year ago, Invenergy has yet to apply for a state permit for its Hales Lake project of more than 100 turbines in Camden and Currituck counties.

In Beaufort County, the Pantego project, consisting of 49 turbines, is on indefinite hold as further studies are done on migrating swans and geese.

In Pasquotank County, the biggest of the projects – Atlantic Wind LLC’s 150-turbine farm – has yet to begin construction because the company is waiting to find a buyer of the electricity it would produce.

“Everything is in limbo,” said Wayne Harris, director of Albemarle Economic Development Commission.

Total government incentives for wind energy that grew to $5 billion in 2010 from $476 million in 2007 are no longer a sure thing. The U.S. Senate Committee on Finance voted Thursday to renew tax credits for wind-energy projects that begin construction before the end of 2013. It is unclear whether the House will take up the issue, however, and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he would end the credits.

Without tax credits, Atlantic Wind would be on hold indefinitely because it would be unable to produce electricity at a competitive rate, Harris said.

“We’re not going to build a large wind-energy project without a long-term power purchasing agreement,” Paul Copleman, a spokesman for Iberdrola Renewables, parent company of Atlantic Wind, said.

The Pantego project, which would lie near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, has run into the same opposition the Navy did when it proposed building a jet airfield nearby. At public hearings, dozens spoke against wind turbines operating near a refuge where thousands of migrating waterfowl winter. Concerns about bats and bald eagles also were raised.

Refuge manager Howard Phillips wrote to the state permitting agency in December, saying that the project “causes us great concern” and calling for another study.

The Pantego project is on indefinite hold while the company conducts more research on bird mortality, said David Groberg, an Invenergy vice president.

Each project must get approval from the North Carolina Utilities Commission. Atlantic Wind applied in January 2011 and was approved four months later. Pantego was approved in March 2012, pending agreement from environmental agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That approval has yet to come.

Invenergy expects to apply for a state permit for the Hales Lake project by the fall, regardless of whether Congress approves tax credits, Groberg said. But the Coast Guard Air Station nearby also has plans to reactivate a runway that has a flight path over the proposed wind turbine site.

“We’re working with the Coast Guard to avoid impacts,” Groberg said.

On July 16, Atlantic Wind turned in its annual report, more than a year after getting state approval. Short and to the point, one phrase of the report represents the status of each of the North Carolina projects: “has not yet begun.”

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