A bill that would have tightened regulations on the placement of wind turbines near military bases will have to wait until the next year.
House Bill 763, the Military Operations Protection Act of 2016, passed the N.C. Senate but didn’t make it out of committee in the N.C. House.
“There were many of us from down here on the coast where our military bases are so critical to us very disappointed that it didn’t,” said N.C. Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico.
Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, had sponsored the bill.
“We were going to put it in our regulatory reform bill that last couple of days of the session and it got bogged down,” said Sanderson. “We had some folks who were convinced that you could have military training and wind turbines and that they were compatible. We thought we had a plan worked out and that it would go forward. It kind of fell apart. We thought we had another one worked out and it kind of fell apart also, so we just finally said if we try to do something in the last few hours of the session, it’s not going to be what we need so we just made the decision.”
Supporters of the military say the legislation is needed to protect a multi-billion economic impact to the state while at the same time protecting training grounds crucial to the country’s defenses. Opponents argued the bill restricts private property rights and fails to take into considering the economic and environmental impact wind energy can have on the state.
Sanderson said he met with Brown and N.C. Sen. Lewis Pate from Goldsboro and they decided to come back next year with another version of the bill.
“It will be filed as soon as we get back in January and we will probably try to get it filed in the House and the Senate side so that the first one that gets heard will come across to the other chamber because we’re very serious about getting this done,” said Sanderson. “We’re very serious about protecting our flight and training flight patterns for our military. It’s critical. If they can’t train, they’re not going to stay at Cherry Point, so it’s very critical.”
In the House, N.C. Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, said he did not support the bill.
“I would not have supported the bill, so its demise doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s going to affect private property rights, and it’s not something that the military had asked for. I want to be there and help the military wherever they need it and I want to be military friendly. On the other hand, we don’t want to give away the farm. This would affect a lot of property owners in Beaufort County, which is also in my district, so I got a lot of complaints from them.”
Speciale said local and state regulations that deal with the issue are already in place.
“This, to me, was overkill, and again, it would affect what they can do with their property,” he said. “If I believed that it was necessary and there’s no evidence that it is, certainly I would support it, but everything says that this is a frivolous bill.”
A key aspect of the bill is the use of a map that details flight patterns for military aircraft.
“What we tried to do was establish areas where it is OK (to build turbines) and that is what our maps will show,” Sanderson said. “Anybody who potentially wanted to locate one of their structures had those areas very graphically set out so there was no error in where they could look for land and where they couldn’t.”
Sanderson said he doubts any revision would be made to the map when the the legislation is introduced next year.
Speciale said the map needed more thought.
“There were a couple of versions of the map that they used to come up with this, and I am concerned that this bill was put together too quickly with good intentions but it needs to be looked at a little better,” he said.
Katharine Kollins, president of the Southeast Wind Coalition, agreed that the bill was hastily assembled.
“I am very thankful that the bill did not pass this session because I think it would have been done in haste and the full repercussions of that bill were not well thought out,” said Kollins.
Kollins believes the military and wind energy can coexist.
“We’ve seen numerous cases where wind developers have worked very closely with the local military both in North Carolina and across the country,” said Kollins. “We recognize that the military is extremely important to North Carolina’s economy and obviously the overall mission. Wind very much can coexist with military training, with radar and with our military installations and will give the counties that those military installations are in access to other economic development tools.”
Kollins said the military should be able to work around tall structures.
“Our military pilots are the best pilots in the world,” she said. “A stationary structure is not something that they can’t plan around.”
Sanderson said the turbines give ghost patterns on aircraft radar, and that the windmills can be mistaken for aircraft.
“It’s just one more thing that those folks that have to operate those radars would have to deal with and does create almost like turbulence and images that aren’t really there, and when you add that along with those other adverse health effects that you have seen created by these wind turbines, it’s just a lot against them as far as I’m concerned,” said Sanderson.
Kollins said newer radars don’t have that issue.
“The technologies of which I am aware primarily relate to the radar itself, so generally the miscalculations of the radar come from having radar systems that are really old, so a lot of times it’s actually advancement of the radar system, so if they make upgrades or completely replace a radar system, then the issues of misjudging what something is are removed,” said Kollins. “There have been a number of instances where wind developers in certain areas have gone in and been the ones to pay for upgrades to help the military upgrade their radar systems.”
Before the bill is resurrected next session, Kollins would like to make sure legislators have all the right information about the wind industry.
“From the wind industry perspective, our goal over the next few months is to work to educate both the public and the North Carolina legislature on what wind is and give people a better understanding of the (Department of Defense) clearinghouse process, because there is very much a process in existence that takes our national security into consideration and still allows us to develop energy resources,” said Kollins.
Sanderson said the goal of the bill is simple.
“Our main goal is to protect our bases,” said Sanderson. “I don’t have to tell you how important Cherry Point is to eastern North Carolina as well as the air base in Goldsboro. They are just critical.”
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