The leader of the N.C. House has been invited to meet with officials from Pasquotank and Perquimans counties this week about his and other top lawmakers’ efforts to have the Trump administration shut down Amazon Wind Farm US East.
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, has been invited to tour the wind farm and attend a closed-door meeting with officials from both counties on Tuesday, state Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, said last week.
Steinburg, who supports the wind farm and opposes efforts to shut it down, said he invited Moore to the region because he hopes to reassure him about the benefits of the $400 million, 104-turbine project. The Daily Advance was unable to confirm whether Moore will attend the meeting.
Steinburg’s invitation comes in the wake of a recent letter signed by the House speaker, state Senate President Phil Berger and eight other lawmakers, including 1st District Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, asking new Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to shut down the Amazon wind farm over what they describe as national security concerns. The lawmakers claim the new wind farm will interfere with long-range military radar, specifically the relocatable over-the-horizon radar receiver at the Northwest Annex in Chesapeake, Virginia.
Of the state lawmakers who signed the letter to DHS Secretary Kelly, Steinburg called Moore’s signature the “most surprising.”
In a number of interviews, spokesmen for the Navy have said the military has not heard concerns about the wind farm from North Carolina lawmakers. And in an interview with The Associated Press, a Navy spokesman said the current wind farm is not likely to interfere with the mission of the Northwest Annex.
In a visit in Elizabeth City last week, an official with the firm that built the wind farm defended the project, noting his company worked with the military to respond to the concerns about interference with radar that the state lawmakers are now raising.
“We spent years working with the Department of Defense; we were in the Pentagon monthly,” said Avangrid Renewables Project Permitting Manager Michael Clayton, speaking to the Albemarle Conservation and Wildlife Chapter at The Villa restaurant Thursday night.
Clayton acknowledged that high-ranking military officers did initially object to the project, describing their objections as based on unrealistic modeling of the project’s effect on the Navy’s radar facility in Chesapeake.
“Initially what they had done, is they did all this modeling, and they used all these assumptions that would never happen, ever,” such as assuming all the turbines would be spinning in the same direction toward the Chesapeake facility at the same speed, he said. “They said, if this, and that, and that, and that, and this, maybe there might be some sort of interference of some kind, somehow, that we don’t know how that would affect us.”
Clayton said Avangrid worked with the Department of Defense to revise the modeling, and that led to an agreement in 2014 to allow 104 turbines – 46 fewer than originally proposed – in specific locations. Avangrid will also study the turbines’ operations this year to verify the turbines’ impacts on military radar are acceptable, he said.
Claiming the company worked at length to satisfy the military’s concerns, Clayton also said it is “hard to believe” critics of the wind farm now allege that former President Barack Obama’s administration forced the project’s approval.
Clayton also discussed various wildlife studies the company conducted in 2010 and 2011, primarily to study birds and bats. Based on bird surveys and acoustic monitoring to identify bat species by their unique sounds, Clayton said few threatened or endangered species were found. Once the project starts, he said Avangrid will monitor wildlife kills to ensure they’re at acceptable levels, and consider operational changes if needed.
Notably, the North Carolina lawmakers’ letter also claims the wind farm will cause economic losses, a claim apparently based in part on turbines killing bats that provide natural pest control for farmers. Clayton said Avangrid hasn’t found bat deaths have affected farming operations at its other facilities.
Attending Thursday’s meeting of the conservation group, Pasquotank Commissioner Joe Winslow said Clayton provided “the facts” about the wind farm, arguing Avangrid worked for years and spent millions of dollars on studies before proceeding with the project.
Winslow also said the wind farm is a large benefit for Pasquotank County, providing large property tax revenues while providing long-term lease payments to participating property owners. Those lease payments, estimated by Avangrid to be worth more than $600,000 a year, are reinvested in the local economy, he said, while also still allowing people to continue farm their land.
Another Pasquotank commissioner, Frankie Meads, also weighed in on the wind farm during a phone interview Friday. Meads said he hoped that, if there are issues with the Navy’s radar facility, the military and the developer can work them out and that the project isn’t shut down. He declined to say lawmakers’ letter had gone too far, however.
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