BEAUFORT – Carteret County commissioners moved unanimously Wednesday night to approve changes to the tall structures ordinance, making it unlikely wind projects will be viable within county limits.
“I support these amendments, knowing full well they are contentious to anybody who would be interested in coming here to establish a wind farm, because the citizens of the county have asked for this. This is what they’ve demanded,” said Commissioner Elaine Crittenton.
Changes to the ordinance have been ongoing in the wake an announcement last fall that a Houston-based energy giant, Torch Renewable Energy LLC, would seek to construct a hybrid wind and solar farm on Weyerhaeuser land in the Mill Pond area.
Public response to the proposal led both county and Newport officials to tighten the ordinance, first penned in 2008.
Torch pulled its plans Jan. 31, stating the then-ordinance was restrictive enough to require several variances for the project to proceed.
“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,” vice president of development Rocky Ray said in a prepared release.
Chairman Jonathan Robinson told the News-Times in January, the county would continue to vet the ordinance, prior to the Sunday, March 2, expiration of the 60-day moratorium imposed on permit issuance for the structures.
The latest changes, passed by the County Planning Commission on Feb. 10 and the commissioners Wednesday, impose a number of restrictions that supporters say protect residents, while opponents bill as barring future developments.
The new ordinance includes:
- A 1-mile setback from all abutting property lines.
- A 275-foot height maximum on turbine structures replaced the previous 550-foot maximum.
- A surety agreement for abandonment and decommissioning at $200,000 per turbine.
- Notification of the planning department of changes to permitting applications.
- Requirements for the applicant to submit assurance that real property values will not be diminished by the structures. (This was not recommended by the County Planning Commission.)
- Radar coverage at Michael J. Smith Field would not be interrupted; developers must abide by FAA regulations and have no adverse impact on restricted airspace. (The Nov. 18, 2013, approved ordinance included a provision requiring applicants submit comments on possible military impacts from the commanding officer at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.)
- Sound from the turbines cannot exceed 35 decibels, down from 45 decibels previously.
- Requirement of applicant to provide aviation and economic impact studies.
- An escrow account of $50,000 established by the developer to fund investigations of the project at the discretion of the county.
- Shadow, flicker and blade length restrictions.
- Requirement of commercial liability insurance coverage worth $1 million per occurrence.
- An indemnification clause was reintroduced.
Proponents of the changes at Wednesday’s public hearing said increased pressure under the revamped ordinance insured residents’ health, environment, economy, property holdings and the aesthetic value of the Crystal coastline.
“I want to express my sincere appreciation to the commissioners for the fact that they have not taken their eye off the ball here … you’re doing a great job and that’s why this developer has backed off,” said John Droz, a local physicist who has been outspoken in his ongoing opposition of the project. “They got the message that this community is not only educated, but serious about protecting its citizens.”
Mr. Droz held numerous information sessions on the proposed Mill Pond project over recent months, speaking out against the likelihood that it would benefit locals and rallying opponents of the turbines, eventually drafting the list of tightened requirements commissioners approved Wednesday.
“I want to encourage the commissioners to properly finish up passing an improved wind law tonight before (developers) slip through the back door,” former commissioner Bettie Bell told the board. “The property value guarantee is an important protection that citizens near an industrial wind project deserve.”
Those appealing to commissioners in opposition to the changes noted the increased damaging impacts of coal and nuclear power use on the state, including the recent toxic waste spill into the Dan River.
“That’s ‘clean coal’ and that’s where we get most of our electrical energy,” said Morehead City resident Craig Harms. “Governor (Pat) McCrory … has continued to reaffirm his push for offshore oil and gas production off North Carolina, while fishing and tourism industries are worried over what could possibly go wrong with that. Meanwhile, Carteret County is doing its part to reduce the impact of energy extraction and production by preserving a pristine viewscape for Walmart shoppers.”
Weyerhaeuser, which planned to lease a tract of property for the Mill Pond wind and solar array, submitted comments to the hearing expressing displeasure over the most recent wave of ordinance pruning.
“The tower height restrictions negate the ability to put turbines at the proper levels to utilize the good wind resources in North Carolina. The noise restriction you propose is less than a common home dryer and is also unreasonable,” said Bob Emory, Weyerhaeuser’s southern timberlands environmental affairs manager in an email to commissioners and county staff.
The ordinance effectively bars anyone looking to invest in green energy along our coast, said Zachary Keith, an organizer with the North Carolina Sierra Club.
“The changes proposed this evening only lead to a dead end and remove any future possibilities for the county,” he said. “North Carolina also has many companies that build and supply wind turbine parts, but all those are shipped out across the country. We should focus on keeping that infrastructure and economic potential in our state and communities instead of continuing to spread billions purchasing coal from out of state communities to power our plants.”
Vice chairman Robin Comer said his primary goal was to strengthen the ordinance, even if it meant precluding wind energies in this area.
“I’m going to list on the side of the citizens and gamble on the folks of Carteret County,” he said. “And in doing so, if we develop an ordinance, if by default that eliminates a lot of land (from use for turbines) I don’t think it’s our job to back down or to make it work.”
Officials said there is some concern over landowners pursuing legal action against the county for effectively restricting land use for turbines, but Chairman Jonathan Robinson said the county would air on the side of caution for residents.
“To those who maybe think it’s somewhat extreme, there is no extreme when you’re trying to safeguard our home here,” he said.
The ordinance already in place was effective at restricting harmful projects, made clear by the pullout of Torch, said Mr. Emory, on behalf of Weyerhaeuser.
“The proposals are arbitrary and have the effect of putting the entire county off limits to any potential wind development when the current processes at three levels of government have already been proven to work,” he said.
Now passed, the ordinance requirements will have to be met by any developer seeking to construct a turbine on county lands, effective Sunday, when the moratorium on permit issuance expires.
The amendments leave few to no options for citizens and companies seeking to reduce local reliance on harmful coal and nuclear energies, said Mr. Keith.
“Unfortunately from the beginning of this debate, the issues have been one sided: no wind in Carteret County.
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