The Republican lawmakers serving northeastern North Carolina – state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and state Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan – agree on a lot of issues. But the wind farm in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties isn’t one of them.
And many local Republicans are in the middle – skeptical, yet not totally opposed to the wind energy project.
The Daily Advance reached out to prominent Republicans last week to get their views on a recent letter that Cook and nine other lawmakers sent to the incoming administration of President Donald Trump, calling for the shutdown of the Amazon Wind Farm US East. The lawmakers argued the $400 million, 104-turbine wind farm would interfere with a long-range radar facility the Navy operates in Chesapeake, Virginia, though the Navy agreed in 2014 to allow the project to move forward.
“I think both sides have merit,” said Pete Gilbert, chairman of the Pasquotank County Republican Party, of Cook and Steinburg’s disagreement over the wind project. He said he hopes the military will soon say whether the project interferes with the relocatable over-the-horizon radar receiver at the Navy’s Northwest Annex.
Pasquotank Commissioner Frankie Meads, a Republican, said in a prior interview that he hopes the wind farm can resolve any concerns with the military and continue to operate.
The Navy has said recently the project will not interfere with Northwest Annex’s mission. Avangrid Renewables, the company that built and plans to operate the wind farm, in fact scaled back the size of the wind farm in 2014 from 150 to 104 turbines to address the Navy’s concerns. Avangrid’s agreement with the Navy also calls for both parties to bring in a technical expert to fix any interference with radar caused by the turbines beyond a defined threshold.
Gilbert said he’s not necessarily opposed to the wind farm project. He said he feels Pasquotank County commissioners failed to include enough people in the project’s permitting – leaving public concerns unaddressed. The Pasquotank board has a 6-1 Democratic majority.
Gilbert also said he’s concerned that the county only obtained a “letter of credit” for decommissioning the turbines when the wind farm reaches the end of its life in 25 years or so. If Avangrid Renewables goes bankrupt someday, that letter of credit will be worthless, he said, and Pasquotank and Perquimans could get stuck with cleanup costs. There should have been a bond for those costs, he said.
However, if that concern were also addressed, Gilbert said he personally had no problem with the project. People have a right to use their property how they want if it’s not hurting others, he noted, also agreeing it could be an economic benefit to the area.
Pasquotank GOP Vice Chairwoman Betsy Meads similarly said she wasn’t going to take sides between Cook and Steinburg. Though she said she’s “not impressed” with wind power because it’s expensive compared to other forms of energy, she also said she feels the wind farm shouldn’t be shut down unless there was a good reason. It’s also not fair for any business to be penalized if they’ve played by the rules, she added.
That’s not to say she’s totally happy with how Pasquotank handled the project, however.
“We didn’t have very good negotiators,” she said, explaining the county will get less revenue from the project than what a similar wind farm generates in Ohio, where Avangrid initially wanted to develop the project.
She also said she understood people’s concerns with wind power, noting turbines were built closer to homes in Perquimans than they were in Pasquotank.
Republican Perquimans Board of Commissioners Chairman Kyle Jones said he respects Cook’s and Steinburg’s different opinions on the farm.
He also said he trusts the Department of Defense to reach the right conclusions about the wind farm. Notably, in its agreement with Avangrid, DOD agreed to monitor the project for a year to verify it wouldn’t cause too much radar interference.
Does that mean state lawmakers’ letter demanding the farm’s immediate shutdown was premature?
“That’s their call,” Jones said.
Republican Chowan Commissioner Patti Kersey said national security must come first. But she also said she trusts military experts will determine if the project causes too much interference – and how that might be mitigated. She declined to comment on whether the lawmakers’ letter was premature.
Kersey also briefly discussed the Timbermill wind project proposed in Chowan and Perquimans counties. Though the project is being litigated in Perquimans, Kersey said it’s a done deal in Chowan where commissioners approved its permit. That said, Kersey said she expressed concerns about wind turbine setbacks while campaigning for county commissioner last fall. Any changes that Chowan commissioners make to turbine setbacks now would only apply to future projects, she noted.
Chowan GOP Chairman James Robison didn’t mince words when asked about the Amazon wind farm. Cook is right to oppose it, he said.
Robison said he believes the administration of former President Barack Obama forced the military to accept the project because it prioritized renewable energy over national security.
The lawmakers’ letter was “right on target,” he said.
Robison also said wind energy is so reliant on government subsidies that, if the Trump administration and Congress did away with them, the wind project would have to shut down.
“Basically wind energy is a scam,” Robison claimed.
Owen Etheridge, chairman of the Currituck County Republican Party and president of the Albemarle Pamlico Republican Club, said he disagrees with shutting down the project. Etheridge noted he is leasing land for a wind farm in the Hales Lake area in northern Currituck; that project has been proposed by Invenergy.
Absent a compelling reason, it would be chilling to businesses to shut down a completed project due to last-minute objections, Etheridge said.
“If it’s shutdown … who’s to say it wouldn’t happen to something else?” he asked.
Etheridge also said that, based on his conversations with other Republicans, many are concerned about wind farms relying on government subsidies. However, he said all forms of energy generation are subsidized, and called that objection a “red herring.”
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