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Timbermill Wind farm, to be nation’s tallest, denied permit in Eastern North Carolina

A proposal to build the nation’s tallest wind energy turbines in Eastern North Carolina is on hold after Perquimans County commissioners denied a local permit to the project developer, Apex Clean Energy.

Perquimans officials voted 3-2 on Monday against the permit for 57 turbine towers, concluding that the proposed 599-foot tall structures were not in harmony with the timber-harvesting region and could substantially harm property values for surrounding farmers, retirees and other landowners.

The Perquimans County vote came on the heels of a unanimous permit approval for the Timbermill Wind farm in neighborhing Chowan County, where 48 turbines are slated for construction. Commissioners in both counties heard concerns about the noise generated by the whooshing blades, flickering shadows and strobing hazard lights.

“The decibel level is the biggest concern I’ve heard from citizens,” Chowan commission chair D. Keith Nixon said in a Nov. 4 hearing, according to a transcript.

Apex Clean Energy, based in Charlottesville, Va., said it is reviewing its options for the 105-turbine project. The company could appeal the Perquimans County decision to a local superior court. It could reconfigure or reduce turbine locations and resubmit its permit application. Or it could focus on developing a much smaller project in Chowan County.

“While we are disappointed in last night’s decision, we remain as committed as ever to bringing safe, clean renewable wind energy, and the jobs and spending that go with it, to Northeast North Carolina,” the company said in a statement. “According to the county’s own outside consultant, our application satisfied all of the requirements in the county ordinance, and our plan exceeded all of the ordinance’s health and safety measures.”

The project faced particularly strong opposition in Perquimans County, where 54 of the proposed 57 turbines were to be built on timber land owned by Weyerehaeuser Corp. The permit review spanned eight days of public hearings over three months, concluding on a Saturday in October.

Perquimans County sod farmer Leary Winslow, who opposed Timbermill, said he doesn’t expect Apex Clean Energy to drop the project. His main concern was restriction of future property use, resulting in loss of property value on his 200 acres, because the county permit would have allowed turbines within 1,500 feet of homes and within 900 feet of property lines. He said he would be able to see more than 40 turbine towers from his property.

“It’s not that we’re anti-green energy,” Winslow said. “It’s just that they’re too greedy. They made the project too big and too close to peoples’ homes.”

The Chowan County permit review process spanned nine days over four months, concluding Monday. Weyerhaeuser is to host 20 of the 48 turbines in Chowan County, and stands to be paid at least $40 million by Apex Clean Energy over three decades for hosting 74 turbines in both counties.

The project could reap each county more than $750,000 a year in property tax revenue, and farmers and property owners expect to collect more than $500,000 per turbine hosted on their land over 30 years.

Timbermill was seeking to become the state’s second industrial-scale wind farm. The 104-turbine Amazon Wind Farm is more than half completed in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties, where developer Avangrid Renewables expects to start generating electricity next month.

The Amazon project will reach 492 feet in height to the tip of the extended blade and will generate electricity for the online retailing giant’s out-of-state data centers. The Amazon energy project won unanimous approval by the Perquimans County commissioners five years ago, but the commission members who voted are no longer on the board.