The Pantego wind energy project in Beaufort County has attracted a good deal of opposition from a variety of agencies – the latest of which is the Lenoir County Board of Commissioners.
The commissioners voted unanimously Monday for a resolution which called for much stricter regulation by the state of wind and solar energy projects to ensure they do not encroach on military training areas or routes.
“It’s pretty common sense to us that you don’t want to do something that’s going to diminish the military presence in Eastern North Carolina,” Commissioner J. Mac Daughety said.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Defense and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Wayne County have expressed opposition to the proposed 11,000-acre wind farm, which has been approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission.
The project also requires military and environmental review, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has logged its concerns about the potential negative impact on bald eagle habitats nearby.
F-15E fighter aircraft based at Seymour Johnson fly over Beaufort County on their way to a bombing range in Dare County.
The area is used for low-level flying training, and the jets fly 500 feet off the ground, according to the resolution, which was presented to the Lenoir County commissioners by county Economic Development Director Mark Pope.
The Pantego project includes 49 wind turbines as high as 505 feet. The structure of the turbines, and their large rotating blades, can interfere with the F-15E’s radar, plus the specialized radar it uses for “terrain following” and low and medium-altitude flight.
“Frequent use of the Dare County Bombing Range and specific air training routes and operating areas over North Carolina is critical to accomplishing the mission of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base,” the resolution stated. “To continue to be useful for training purposes, these areas must allow realistic combat oriented flying and training, including low-level and nighttime operations.”
U.S. Air Force Col. Jeannie Leavitt, commander of the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson, wrote a letter to Gov. Bev Perdue in July stating the wind farm could affect training for her pilots, and personnel at other military installations in the region.
Perdue issued Executive Order 124 on Aug. 17, requiring cabinet agency heads and staffers to take a number of steps to coordinate with military officials to ensure economic development projects do not encroach on military training areas.
“WHEREAS, it is, therefore, of paramount importance to the future of North Carolina to maintain the best possible relationship with all branches of the U.S. military and to promote practices that maintain North Carolina’s preeminent position as the best location for military bases and training installations,” the executive order stated.
The commissioners’ resolution noted the U.S. military has an annual impact of $26 billion on North Carolina’s economy – Seymour Johnson alone boasts 6,300 active duty and reserve personnel, who provided an economic impact of $534 million in fiscal 2011.
Daughety said the military and agribusiness are the two largest economies in the state.
“They want to be good partners and grow with us, but they want to be sure we protect their training facilities,” he said of the military.
Information from the Raleigh News & Observer and the Greensboro News & Record contributed to this report.
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