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Energy company addresses issues

NEWPORT – Houston-based company Torch Renewable Energy LLC expects its proposed wind and solar energy facility to bring a lot of benefits to both this town and Carteret County without any negative impacts.

Rocky Ray, Torch Renewable’s vice president of development, was in the county this week to meet with the County Board of Adjustment on a variance request for a meteorological tower associated with the hybrid wind-solar energy facility his company proposes building just east of Newport’s corporate limits, between the town and Mill Pond.

Mr. Ray said in an interview Wednesday there were a combination of attractive factors that made the company decide to locate its project near Newport on about 7,000 acres the company will lease from the Weyerhaeuser Co. and 150 acres leased from a private owner. These factors include access to the Duke Energy Progress company’s grid, a reliable wind resource and minimal issues with surrounding military operations.

“In North Carolina, we feel we’ve found the best site on the eastern seaboard for wind energy,” he said.

The company plans to build 40 wind energy turbines – down from 50 after a scoping meeting Nov. 5 in Wilmington – at the site, along with a 50-75 acre solar panel farm between Little Deep Creek Road and Little Deep Creek. This project has a capital cost of $180-$250 million, which Mr. Ray said the company expects to not only make back, but to make a profit from with energy sales.

Mr. Ray said the project will be financed through traditional term financing, cash equity, term debt and a federal tax credit. Some of the finances will be provided through fossil fuel subsidies, since Torch Renewable Energy is a subsidiary of Torch Energy Advisors Inc., an energy company that develops both renewable energy sources and traditional fossil fuels.

“Not everyone is aware of the subsidies fossil fuels get,” Mr. Ray said. “From 1950 to 2010, 70 percent of all energy subsidies went to fossil fuels. It was 9 percent for renewables.”

Newport residents have raised concerns at public town meetings. The primary concerns have been potential impacts to military operations from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, potential impacts to surrounding property values, potential health and safety issues from shadow flicker and glint, potential environmental impacts and potential noise problems.

Mr. Ray said everybody will find faults in an energy source, but public view must be balanced with what energy sources have the least amount of impact.

“The Environmental Protection Agency has put mandates on cleaning up coal combustion plants,” he said by way of example. “There are no emissions from wind energy. But we (Torch Renewable Energy) aren’t one-sided; all energy sources are important with the country’s growing energy demand.”

In response to people’s concerns about health, noise and property value, Mr. Ray cited two studies: a study released from the Lawrence Berkley National Lab this August and one from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Environmental Health in January 2012. According to the Lawrence-Berkley report, in a study of 50,000 homes across the U.S. within 10 miles of wind facilities – 1,200 of them within a mile – no statistical data showed that wind turbines affected the neighboring property’s value, either pre- or post-construction.

The Massachusetts report showed that, due to setback requirements placed on wind energy projects, no impact was caused by noise or shadow flicker.

Meeting the military’s needs is Torch Renewable Energy’s top priority right now. Mr. Ray said a military mitigation response team from the U.S. Department of Defense is currently reviewing the company’s proposed project. Until the review is completed, the company is holding off on any other due diligence; the review should be complete in the next 30-60 days.

Once the military has been satisfied, Torch Renewable Energy will need to get an H.B. 484 siting permit from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The N.C. General Assembly recently made the House bill that requires this permit into law, and Mr. Ray said his company is the first to pursue the permit.

In addition to the DENR permit, Torch Renewable Energy will also need several other permits, including:

• A state Coastal Area Management Act permit.

• A state Erosion Control permit.

• Pre- and post-construction state stormwater permits.

• Newport building and conditional-use permits.

• A Carteret County building permit.

• A Carteret County wind energy permit.

• A Federal Aviation Administration determination of no hazard.

• A N.C. Division of Water Quality 401 certification.

• A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 404 permit.

Once the project is complete, Torch Renewable Energy expects there will be a number of benefits for the local area and the county.

“The main drive for communities to accept these projects is the influx of capital,” he said. “We anticipate millions of dollars to be brought to the local economy. There would be eight permanent jobs created for operations and maintenance. For the county, there’s the tax revenue to support schools and other services.”

Mr. Ray said there would also be 100 jobs created during the 6-8 month construction period, and he said his company makes a point of hiring local businesses for construction projects. He also said there would be ancillary business opportunities created for local businesses, such as hotels.

“The other key benefit is the power produced is well under retail rates,” Mr. Ray said. “For the Carteret-Craven County area, this was 9.98 cents per kilowatt hour (during the peak summer season).” Mr. Ray couldn’t give the exact rate that would be charged once the facility went online, saying such information was confidential.

While Torch Renewable Energy doesn’t have any local business partners yet, Mr. Ray said they wanted specifically to provide energy to Duke Energy Progress.

“Outside of this service footprint, you get into Dominion,” he said, referring to the Dominion energy company, which provides power to North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio. “In order to sell energy out of Dominion, you have to pay a fee.”