RALEIGH – A bill is before the General Assembly that, if adopted, could keep wind energy turbines out of certain military base flight paths, which includes all of Carteret County, and expand the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs role in permitting wind energy facilities.
The state Senate adopted a committee substitute Wednesday on House Bill 763 – the Military Operations Protection Act of 2016 – from the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources. The bill passed its second Senate reading Thursday and is on the Senate’s calendar for Monday.
According to the bill’s language, if adopted it would prohibit wind energy facilities from several color-coded zones identified in the March 2016 edition of the N.C. Military Affairs Commission Compatible Use Map Atlas. These maps would be kept updated to reflect existing and future military operations.
Jennifer Mundt, state legislative analyst, issued an analysis of HB 763 on Wednesday. According to the analysis, the bill would make several changes to state statutes:
•Modify the permitting process for wind energy facilities.
•Modify the endorsement process for construction of tall buildings and structures.
•Modify the procedure for adopting, amending or repealing ordinances in order to provide the DMVA with the responsibility for consideration and review of military-related criteria.
•Establish a N.C. Sentinel Lands Committee to coordinate the overlapping priority areas in the vicinity of the state’s major military installations.
One locally-based environmental group supports efforts to protect military bases from land-use encroachments that interfere with their abilities to carry out their missions. Todd Miller, founder and executive director of the N.C. Coastal Federation, a nonprofit based in North Carolina dedicated to protecting the state’s coastal environment, said protecting the natural environment around North Carolina’s bases has proven to be an effective way to prevent incompatible land uses near the bases.
“That said, the implications of this legislation on the future of wind development in North Carolina needs to be fully understood to be sure the consequences of this law are justified,” he said.
Meanwhile, Allies for Cherry Point Tomorrow, a citizen’s group that supports the continued presence and operation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and Fleet Readiness Center East, said it fully supports any efforts to ensure military operations and flight paths aren’t encroached on.
“We expect it (HB 763) to move pretty fast through the legislature,” said ACT government relations coordinator James Norment in an interview Friday, “and that it will have some action next week.”
HB 763 was completely rewritten from its original purpose. The bill was first filed on April 14, 2015, by Rep. Christ Millis, R-Pender, Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance and Rep. John Bell IV, R-Wayne, and titled the Task Force on Regulatory Reform.
The bill’s original purpose was to establish a legislative task force on ways to improve the regulatory climate of North Carolina. However, on April 29, 2015, after being sent to the Senate, it was given to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations, where it sat for over a year.
On June 9, the bill was withdrawn from the Rules and Operations Committee, then re-referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources. When the committee substitute was adopted Wednesday, the bill’s title and language had changed to address the matter of wind energy facilities near military installations.
While the primary sponsors of the current bill aren’t listed on the bill itself, Mr. Norment said it’s ACT’s understanding that Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, was the primary sponsor of the rewritten bill. Sen. Brown has also been outspoken in the media on his support of the proposed action in the bill.
Mr. Miller, meanwhile, said the NCCF interprets this section of the bill to mean just about everywhere in Eastern North Carolina where there is potential for wind farms.
“This new regulation will clearly prevent land-based wind farms in North Carolina,” he said. “Wind farms would be barred in every color (zone) that you see on the map. Much of the remaining area includes major urban centers or are places otherwise unsuitable for wind energy. … No wind developer will commit millions of dollars to develop a project that will have to hit a moving regulatory target … If this passes in its current form, there’s likely to be no future land-based wind energy in North Carolina.”
In addition to the above changes, the bill would also require an endorsement from the State Construction Office to build a tall building or structure – including wind turbines – within a ¼ mile of a National Guard facility. The SCO would only issue an endorsement if the Adjutant General says the proposed structure wouldn’t encroach on or interfere with the facility and its operation. The Federal Aviation Administration must also issue a Determination of No Hazard to Air Navigation for the SCO to gives its endorsement.
If someone violates the restrictions on wind energy facilities, tall buildings and structures, or threatens to violate them, the bill would allow the SCO to request the state Attorney General institute a civil action, which would seek an injunction against the violation and any other relief the court deems proper. This action would be filed in the superior court of the county in which the violation or threat occurred.
The bill also directs the DMVA to study potential conflicts posed by energy-related infrastructure development within the zones wind turbines are prohibited from on the low level flight compatibility maps. The findings of this study, along with any recommendations and legislative proposals, would be due before the GA’s Joint Legislative Energy Policy Commission on or before Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.
The bill would also establish a N.C. Sentinal Landscapes Committee. This committee would be responsible for coordinating the overlapping priority areas in and near where major military installation testing and training occurs.
The committee would also assist landowners with improving their land to benefit both their own operations and local wildlife habitats, while furthering land uses compatible with military activities. The committee would develop and implement programs and strategies to protect working lands in and near military testing and training areas, as well as programs to address restrictions inhibiting military testing and training and forestalling incompatible development in or near these activities.
These sections of the bill would become effective as soon as the bill became law.
The bill would also authorize the DMVA to evaluate if building or operating a wind energy facility would encroach on or adversely impact any major military installation or branch of the military in the state. The evaluation may consider potential interference with air navigation routes, air traffic control areas, military training routes or radar.
The DMVA would issue a recommendation to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality on whether or not to permit any proposed wind energy facility. If no recommendation is issued within 60 days of a complete application being submitted to the state, the failure to act would be treated as a recommendation to deny the facility a permit.
The bill would amend the Military Lands Protection Act of 2013 to replace the SCO with the DMVA as the state agency reviewing and determining whether or not to endorse construction of tall buildings or structures in any area within 5 miles of a major military installation.
If the bill is made law, these sections expanding the DMVA’s role wouldn’t become effective until Monday, Oct. 1, 2018.
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