ATLANTIC BEACH – Local officials and representatives have entered the fray, announcing they too will adamantly oppose the development of wind farms along the Carolina coastline.
Carteret County commissioners Jimmy Farrington, Robin Comer and Jonathan Robinson, along with N.C. House Rep. Pat McElraft who represents Carteret County, attended the second forum Friday held by retired physicist John Droz aimed at mobilizing opposition to the turbines.
“I’ll just go on record saying this, if there is any way I can kill this damn project, I’m going to kill it,” Mr. Comer told attendees.
The forum comes on the heels of Houston-based Torch Renewable Energy LLC proposing development of a 40-turbine facility on the outskirts of Newport.
The proposed site is owned in part by Weyerhaeuser Co., which plans to lease over 7,000 acres to the energy firm.
Wind farms, Mr. Droz argues, fail to live up to company pitches of renewable, cost-efficient means of energy production.
“Wind energy is high cost with very low benefits,” he said.
Wind farms are instead the result of intense lobbying from companies that profit from “green” models, he argues.
Mr. Droz held a similar forum Nov. 26, drawing a crowd of roughly 100 local opponents of the Mill Pond project and the potential for others like it.
The proposed wind facility has been on the county radar for sometime, according to officials.
The county’s tall structure ordinance that has been on the books since 2008, and one of the toughest in the state, has undergone significant work in recent months, according to County Planning Director Jim Jennings.
At their November meeting, commissioners passed the latest round of text amendments to the piece, strengthening setback requirements and slashing portions that the planning department deemed too hard to enforce.
Newport has also adopted its town ordinance, in light of pending proposals in the Mill Pond area.
Though both improve greatly upon lax state regulations, they aren’t enough argues Mr. Droz.
Mr. Comer, who said he found Mr. Droz’s report informative, hopes his findings can be used to strengthen county regulations.
Commissioners Farrington and Robinson agreed, saying they too would fight development of wind farms, given concern over the impact imparted on public and environmental health, the tourism industry and military airspace.
Col. Jim Green, retired out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and living in Cape Carteret, said the proposed placement of the structures infringed upon the flight paths of the base, specifically the approach corridor for Runway 32.
“This is a very, very bad location,” said Col. Green. “I’ve talked to those on base and they’ve assured me they are very aware of this issue and they don’t want it there.”
All statements on renewable energy from the military come from Washington’s Department of Defense, a mechanism Col. Green said serves as a gagging ploy on local officers to speak out about turbine facilities.
Ms. McElraft said she thinks the burden it places on Cherry Point will topple the project.
“There is no place to mitigate this project away from Cherry Point,” she said. “This project cannot be done for our county airport and the safety of those planes, it cannot be done for the mission of Cherry Point and this project cannot be done for the economy of our area.”
Preserving the economy and industry in coastal communities should be the catalyst for disabling this and other harmful projects, she said.
“I do not believe this project will ever be permitted,” Ms. McElraft said of a meeting she had with the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources on the proposed facility. “Now DENR couldn’t tell me definitively, but I heard that in the background. I want ya’ll to continue to be loud though, and now I will be fighting for you because I know we don’t want this project here.”
Mr. Droz argued that many of the concerns the state now faces over energy come from the Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 484, which dictate requirements for renewable energy usage and the few state requirements for wind facility permitting.
Ms. McElraft was a primary sponsor on the permitting bill, H484.
As of Friday morning, Torch had not submitted an application to the county concerning the project, according to Mr. Jennings. He said he doesn’t expect to see anything at he county level for months to come.
Commissioners are eager, however, to get the tall structures ordinance in order, said Mr. Comer.
They proposed a joint work session with county planning at their November meeting, which has yet to take place. The final county commission meeting of the year is Dec. 16.
Mr. Droz said he reached out to Mr. Jennings and the planning department with concerns on the project, specifically that Torch was already discussing gaining possible variances to the ordinance and hadn’t heard back.
Mr. Jennings said the department would respond to public concerns from Mr. Droz and others and confirmed that Torch has already indicated intentions to request variances to shorten setbacks for several towers proposed near Mill Creek Road.
As the ordinance is currently written, any variances would be assessed and issued or denied by the County Planning Board of Adjustment.
“We need to make wind facilities a special, conditional-use permits so commissioners grant waivers themselves,” said Mr. Droz. “Hold them accountable to the voters and we can avoid subterfuge by someone else.”
Carol Lohr, executive director of the Crystal Coast Tourism Development Authority, said the organization would take a public stance to oppose the wind turbines and work to mobilize other tourism authorities along the East Coast.
Additionally, concerns have arisen over a portion of the Weyerhaeuser property said to have a conservation tax easement in place.
Janice Allen, deputy director of the N.C. Coastal Land Trust, confirmed the easement on 1,000 acres of the property, located around Mill Pond and along Black Creek.
“The easement doesn’t allow for the construction of anything,” said Ms. Allen. “We need to overlay the easement map with the conceptual drawings (to see if the two areas overlap).”
Ms. Allen said the trust is doing fact finding to determine if the proposed facility includes any of the property under the easement. While the trust doesn’t know for sure yet, Ms. Allen said she expects that only one or two turbines may be currently proposed for easement-protected property.
A conservation easement can only be dissolved by a court order since a property owner usually receives a tax incentive for agreeing to an easement. Ms. Allen said the trust occasionally renegotiates an easement if the proposal is conservation positive or neutral, but never just so a company can build on land they previously promised not to build on.
The trust intends to meet with Weyerhaeuser to discuss the easement after the first of the year.
While Carteret County has received no applications for the project, Torch has submitted an application to the N.C. Utilities Commission. That application is open for public comment through Dec. 23.
Torch Vice President of Development Rocky Ray previously told the News-Times the Mill Pond project would create upward of 100 jobs during construction and ancillary business opportunities to come.
Mr. Ray could not give a monetary rate that the proposed facility would charge for energy for comparison to that of Duke Energy Progress.
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