HERTFORD – A Perquimans County commissioner recused from participating in further deliberations on a wind energy project in the county knew that his communication with opponents of the project, if it was discovered, might pose a conflict of interest, recently released emails show.
Commissioner Matthew Peeler, whose colleagues recused him several weeks ago from deliberating further on Apex Clean Energy’s request for a conditional use permit, states in several emails his concern of becoming too closely linked publicly with opponents to Apex’s request.
In one email to an unknown recipient in August 2015, Peeler said one thing “I am worried about is getting so involved in the discussion that I become a liability to the cause (of fighting Apex’s project) due to (a) conflict of interest.”
“I could be considered highly biased and my fellow board members would use that against those speaking up if they perceive it is me driving this movement,” Peeler says in the email. “Legally, I am not in a conflict of interest, but the perception is what my fellow board members might key upon. I do not want to give my fellow board members the chance to clump the people (opposing Apex’s project) into one voice. I want each person to be an independent individual that the body politic is willing to say no to.”
In another email, again to an unidentified recipient, Peeler said he did not want it to appear that he was helping opponents of the wind project as they prepared for an upcoming hearing on Apex’s request for a conditional use permit for the project. In the email, Peeler urged his email correspondent to be discreet in sharing his email and discussing his role in opposition to the project.
“Please do not say I said this to your group and please do not send this email to anyone as it might be construed as a conflict of interest that I am working to assist your group instead of being neutral in the process,” Peeler said in the email, adding “I would encourage you to suggest to every person that speaks (at the upcoming hearing) to have written comments … to be presented to the board.”
Peeler’s emails were produced last week by an attorney for Apex Clean Energy to show that Peeler had already made up his mind to oppose Apex’s project before the quasi-judicial hearings on the company’s permit request began in August. Prior to the start of the hearings, each Perquimans commissioner was asked if they could reach an unbiased decision on Apex’s request, and each of them, including Peeler, stated they could.
But based on the emails, Apex’s attorney, Henry Campen, said Peeler had shown he could not be objective about Apex’s request. Campen asked that Peeler be recused from any further deliberations on Apex’s permit request, and in a 3-2 vote several weeks ago, the Perquimans Board of Commissioners agreed to Campen’s request.
The emails Campen secured from the county show Peeler to be a clear opponent of wind energy projects.
Six of the emails were sent in 2015 – four in the month of August. At the time, large numbers of residents were packing Perquimans commissioner meetings to voice opposition to the proposed Apex project. Several months later, in October 2015, county commissioners voted to impose a moratorium on the approval of any new wind-energy project until the county planning board had a chance to review new county requirements for those projects.
At the time those six emails were sent, the Apex project was the only new wind-energy project under consideration in Perquimans, although Apex had not yet submitted an application for a conditional use permit.
Two of the emails were sent this year, one in January – a month before the county considered changes to its wind-energy ordinance. The last was sent in June – after Apex submitted its application for the conditional use permit. That email was directed to Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort.
In May, Cook had backed a bill in the General Assembly that would put severe limits on any new wind or solar projects in the state. The legislation would require a one-and-a-half mile buffer (7,920 feet) between wind and solar projects and any neighboring property line. The Perquimans ordinance requires a setback of two and half times the maximum height of a wind turbine blade – 1,500 feet – from the nearest home. In one email Peeler suggested he favored a setback of 6,560 feet.
Critics of Cook’s legislation point out that the state allows hazardous materials facilities as close as 200 feet away from neighboring property lines, and swine waste lagoons can be 500 feet from a property line. Cook’s bill passed the state Senate but never got a full vote in the House.
In June, Peeler wrote the senator asking him to separate the two types of energy – wind and solar – in his proposed legislation. He indicated that more of Cook’s constituents seemed less opposed to solar energy projects than they were to wind energy projects.
“I see people not willing to fight against solar to the same degree as wind,” Peeler wrote Cook. “I ask that you divide the opposition so we may conquer them. …
“By lumping together wind and solar under renewables, it enables the left to rally behind their ‘go green’ banner,” Peeler continued. “Keep them separate. To me wind is the 15-foot alligator in my 14-foot boat trying to eat me while solar is the 6-foot-alligator swimming in the water near the boat waiting for the fallout.”
Peeler said said government should be proactive when it comes to protecting the health, safety and welfare of citizens, and he said Cook’s legislation would do that.
“My board failed that thinking,” Peeler said, referring to his colleagues on the Perquimans board. “I see where you are being proactive. The left wants these things in the state and because they are not living under the shadows of these turbines, see no reason to fret over them.”
Peeler has declined requests to comment on his emails.
Apex officials did not respond last week to a request for comment on the emails.
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