SNOW HILL – Greene County has joined a growing list of agencies and government entities opposing the construction of wind turbines in Eastern North Carolina.
Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Nov. 5 opposing wind energy farms in low-level flight areas. They had tabled the issue at their Oct. 15 meeting after Commissioner Jack Edmondson said he’d like more information.
“I was the one that was kind of hesitant and wanted some information on its impact,” he said. “… I’m ready to go along with that resolution.”
Jimmy Edmundson, a member of the military affairs committee at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and senior vice president of BB&T in Goldsboro, spoke to commissioners about the impact on the air base before the board voted.
Pantego Wind, a Chicago-based affiliate of Invenergy, has made plans to build the Pantego wind farm with 49 wind turbines, 492 feet tall, in Beaufort County.
Invenergy’s website states, “Invenergy and its affiliated companies develop, own and operate large-scale renewable and other clean energy generation facilities in North America and Europe.”
The planned site lies southwest of the Dare County Bombing Range, which is owned by Seymour Johnson and used by the U.S. Navy and Marines.
“This is really the only range of this kind on the East Coast,” Edmundson said, “and it cannot be duplicated. That’s why it’s extremely important. To the military, it’s a national treasure because it can’t be duplicated.”
Seymour Johnson uses a low-level flight route with its F-15Es entering from the southern part of Beaufort County into the bombing range.
“That’s pretty significant,” Edmundson said about the low-level flight zone, “because the F-15E jet is the only jet in the U.S. arsenal that is required for its air crew to train at low-level altitude.”
Seymour Johnson trains all F-15E pilots – including U.S. allies – and in fiscal year 2011-12, the low-level route was used 3,581 times, he said.
They fly in at 500 feet and 500 miles per hour, Edmundson said, adding that Invenergy’s plan is to put 41 of their turbines within that zone near the bombing range.
Another low-level flight route starts in West Virginia and comes into the bombing range from the northwest and was used 2,469 times in 2011-2012.
Edmundson said a company has planned to put a wind farm along that route with 116 turbines, but hasn’t sought a permit, yet. Other wind farms are also attempting to locate in the Dare County area, he said.
Invenergy met with the 4th Fighter Wing in March 2011 and the N.C. Utilities Commission in September 2011.
“We did not know about this until July,” he said, “and the reason we didn’t know about it is because when Invenergy went to the utility commission, they failed to tell the North Carolina utility commission that they had met with the Air Force and the Air Force had told them it was a bad idea.”
Edmundson said Invenergy did say they had met with the Navy and Marines, he said.
“Well, this particular wind farm does not affect Cherry Point, which is who they talked to,” he said, “and it does not impact the Navy. But it does impact New River Air Station. They did not have a conversation with New River Air Station.”
Edmundson said Invenergy’s strategy about seeking a permit “questions the integrity of the company.”
“Without this bombing range,” he said, “Seymour Johnson probably would not exist in Eastern North Carolina. Cherry Point would be impacted by it. New River Air Station would be impacted by it.”
The economic impact would be about $534 million, he said. But according to Invenergy’s own testimony, the impact from the Pantego project is estimated at $1 million annually and two and half jobs, he said.
Edmundson said there are 6,227 military personnel stationed at Seymour Johnson with just 950 housing units on the base. The rest live in the surrounding area. The base creates about 2,200 civilian jobs, he said.
An impact assessment dated Sept. 10 on Seymour Johnson’s website states in its conclusion, “The construction of wind turbines inside or within 15 nautical miles of R-5314 (10 nautical miles on the north and south) and within MTRs (military training routes) will likely have significant impacts on Seymour Johnson AFB low-altitude training, particularly FTU (formal training unit) training and safety of flight for all F-15E aircrew.”
Edmundson said his committee has been working since July to prevent the wind farm from locating in Beaufort County.
“And the problem is,” he said, “the utility commission has already provided them with the initial certificate to proceed. And that don’t mean it’s a done deal. They still got some other hoops to jump through.”
The company has received about $200 million in stimulus funds.
“(Wind energy) is very expensive to produce,” Edmundson said. “And in order to get the utility companies to buy it from them, they have to figure out how to lower the cost, and they’re doing that with tax credits and stimulus money.”
No companies have agreed to buy this power, as of yet, he said, including Dominion Power and Duke Energy, which recently merged with Progress Energy.
The tax credits are up for renewal the end of the year, Edmundson said.
“We’re not opposed to alternative energy sources,” he said.
But recommendations were made to Invenergy to move their plans 15 miles north or come up with an alternative plan, “and they refused to even consider that.”
Invenergy officials could not be reached for comment.
Wayne County, Goldsboro, Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, North Carolina’s Eastern Region, Eastern Carolina Council, Kinston, Lenoir County and about a dozen other counties and chambers are looking at or have adopted resolutions to oppose the wind turbines in Beaufort County.
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