RALEIGH – Wind farms and other tall structures would be banned from military aircraft flight paths and restricted within five miles of the state’s bases – putting a vast swath of North Carolina off limits – under a proposal the state Senate approved Monday.
The bill was approved 33-14 and now goes to the House.
Bill sponsor Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Jacksonville, said the new restrictions would protect military zones while still providing room for wind projects.
“This is one of the most important pieces of legislation for eastern North Carolina and the citizens of this state that we will vote on this session,” said Sen. Norm Sanderson, a Republican who represents three coastal counties.
The legislation is intended to ensure base commanders are satisfied that no structures get in the way of jets and helicopters on training missions. Supporters in the legislature say they don’t want to do anything to risk the loss or downsizing of military bases in the U.S. Department of Defense’s periodic reviews. The military is a substantial part of the state’s economy.
Some Democrats and others who oppose the bill were concerned that it would make it harder for wind energy projects to be built. Two projects that were already in the works would have to comply with the more restrictive new law if it is enacted.
Under the proposal, any structure taller than 200 feet would be subject to state review within a five-mile buffer zone around each base. The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs would do the review and would also make sure a map that would outline the restricted areas is up to date.
Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, a Democrat who represents eight northeastern counties, objected to adding more requirements without resolving the problem that there are separate processes for federal and state permits, which slows the process of building wind farms. She also noted the map proposed as part of House Bill 763 is not the same map that the Defense Department or the Federal Aviation Administration use. The map was developed by an outside consultant the administration hired, in consultation with the bases.
Smith-Ingram represents a poor and sparsely populated part of the state that hopes to benefit from the wind operations. There are at least two projects currently being planned, one that straddles Chowan and Perquimans counties and the other in Tyrrell County. A third project, in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties, was exempt from permits and is under construction.
The two projects that are pending represent about $700 million in spending. There is concern that they would not be viable if they had to meet the requirements under the new bill, as they lack state permits.
Brown said the industry has known for several years that a map was being prepared, and these two projects jumped the gun.
“They should have known where those sensitive areas were,” Brown said when the Senate discussed the bill last week. “Honestly, I think some tried to circumvent that process.”
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