MOREHEAD CITY – Torch Renewable Energy LLC, the Houston-based alternative energy giant, announced Friday it will abandon plans to develop a hybrid wind and solar facility near Mill Pond outside Newport.
“In light of the unlikely prospect of acquiring a variance from the county’s current tall structures ordinance, we have decided not to move forward with the project,” Torch Energy’s vice president of development Rocky Ray said in a prepared release.
The project – which proposed 40 turbines and an array of solar panels in an area in Newport’s extraterritorial jurisdiction – has caused public outcry over the safety, efficiency, economic and military impacts the facility could have on the area.
County commissioners held a public hearing Jan. 2 at the Crystal Coast Civic Center, enacting a moratorium on permitting for wind turbine structures and stalling the proposal in an effort to further investigate repercussions of wind facilities.
“All I can say is that the current ordinance in place had to have factored into their decision,” said Chairman Jonathan Robinson of the announcement. “I’m sure that and the climate and the controversy that surrounded this proposal led to their decision (to terminate).”
Mr. Robinson said he felt the board acted in due diligence imposing the moratorium and would continue to look at the ordinance, despite the project retraction from Torch.
The variances necessary for the project, cited by Torch in the release, are likely alterations to the ordinance’s 3,300-foot setback requirement, said County Manager Russell Overman.
The proposed project would require smaller setbacks to the perimeter to facilitate placement of all 40 of the structures, according to information gleaned by county officials. Mr. Overman said the county was given notice of the dropped proposal Friday afternoon.
Torch Renewable, though in communication with county officials, never submitted an application for permitting of any kind in Carteret County regarding the turbines.
An application is on file with the N.C. Utilities Commission.
Several prominent locals have spoken out against the proposal, including Commissioner Robin Comer and Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret.
Additionally, Congressman Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., announced Friday ongoing concerns on the impact turbines would have on National Weather Service radars in the area.
Torch said earlier this month the company was already in mitigation with officials out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point to remedy possible turbine interference with airspace.
“The state of North Carolina and the Department of the Navy have very rigorous processes in place to ensure that no wind farm in any way jeopardizes military activities,” Mr. Ray said in the release. “We were looking forward to working through those processes to bring renewable energy to the region.”
Mr. Robinson said the board will fine-tune the ordinance and would be open to other alternative energy proposals, given they do not interfere with Cherry Point.
“Our first duty is to safeguard the public and the health of the citizenry. We’re married to Cherry Point here, so the height of the turbines was a main concern for us,” he said.
Torch proposed structures 492 feet high to generate wind power.
Supporters of the clean energy project told the board earlier this month that such projects could bring industry and new possibilities to the Crystal Coast.
“It saddens me that wind power was rejected by the local population without getting to go through the process for permitting,” said Penny Hooper of N.C. Interfaith Power and Light. “The people didn’t give wind energy, alternative energy, a fair chance.”
Ms. Hooper said residents led an anti-wind campaign that hurt the county’s chances at other alternative providers choosing the area for a site.
“The locals stopped a process from going forward on the basis of half-truth, led by one man, John Droz, and the people who were supposed to research and vet (wind) never got the chance.”
Mr. Droz, a local physicist, held a number of anti-wind forums on the project, both this year and in 2008 when the tall structures ordinance was being created.
“It’s very sad that one person has such an inordinate amount of influence on this county’s decision for power sources,” Ms. Hooper said.
Mr. Droz named the dropped project a victory Friday night in an email newsletter to locals.
“This is a community victory,” he said.
North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard calls for 12.5 percent of the state’s energy to be provided by alternative means by 2021.
Torch could not be reached for further comment by presstime.
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