A wind turbine permit bill that allows those advocating for clear flight paths for the military to be heard in the permitting process was overwhelmingly passed the N.C. House on Wednesday.
Introduced March 28 by Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, of District 10 including Craven County, the bill, HB 484, passed by 112 to 2 in the final house vote and is currently in the N.C. Senate.
The bill sets a $3,500 fee for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources permit and requires wind energy developers to confront military encroachment issues at the beginning of the process.
“This was the culmination of months of work from the ACT team as well as the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base community, John Nicholson with the governor’s office, Brad Ives with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources” and the bipartisan representatives from the area, said James Norment of New Bern, lobbyist for Allies For Cherry Point’s Tomorrow.
“I believe that informed decisions will help most developers avoid an investment in a project that is an encroachment problem,” he said.
Norment and ACT consultant Marc Finlayson applauded the bill’s first round success.
Finlayson said, “Rep. Bell did a fantastic job of learning the issue and being in command of the facts. He did an outstanding job in committee and, as the primary bill sponsor, he was the floor captain.”
While in the House Finance Committee, Finlayson said, Rep. Paul Tine, D-Dare, of District 6 including Pantego in Beaufort County, which is the site of a proposed wind farm, must have been convinced of the validity of the bill, which had several revisions because it went to the house floor without opposition.
ACT was instrumental in getting grass roots support Bell needed and was involved in drafting the legislation and the permitting process, Norment said.
“Bell regularly updated the ACT board on the process,” he said. “We are very grateful for all the hard work the house and our friends in the Seymour Johnson community have done and look forward to working with them to protect to our military flight paths.”
Commanders of bases like Cherry Point air station and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base cannot approve or oppose any wind turbine project under orders from the U.S. Secretary of Defense.
This bill requires that they be notified and would allow hearings on proposed wind turbine projects, which lie in the flight path or training areas for the military, thereby giving local communities an opportunity to become a part of the process.
“It doesn’t preclude wind farms, it simply allows the state to take into account the needs and concerns of military training,” Finlayson said.
The military, and particularly aviation and the civilian workforce connected to it, account for more than 38 percent of the Craven County economy.
Although there is a federal clearinghouse system for projects which could encroach on the effectiveness of military activities on and in the areas surrounding a military base, Norment said,
“It is a process where mitigation is encouraged and often achieved,” he said. “We cannot rely on the federal system to protect North Carolina. It is up to us to preserve and enhance our military’s impact on our economy and promote North Carolina as an excellent play to train our warfighters.”
ACT is also working with counties to implement local ordinances, he said. “Having a state system in place soon will help us draft effective local ordinances that dovetail with the DENR system.”
Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, and Rep. Chris Whitmire, R-Transylvania, were primary sponsors and Rep. George Graham, D-Lenoir, and Rep. Mike Speciale, R-Craven, who also represent Craven, signed on to the bill.
Finlayson said, “I am confident that Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, and Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, can make the same compelling case for it in the senate that Rep. Bell did in the House.”
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