As a massive Amazon wind farm comes online, the developer behind the $400 million, 104-turbine project is looking ahead to future investments in North Carolina.
Years of litigation, community rallying and complex construction came to fruition Thursday when wind farm developer Avangrid announced that the wind farm was operating at full power, providing wind energy to Seattle e-retailer Amazon.
Amazon Web Services has committed to getting 100 percent of the energy used for its cloud data centers from renewable energy sources. Amazon said it is on track to exceed its 2016 goal of 40 percent renewable energy use. AWS said it plans to be powered by 50 percent renewable energy by the end of 2017.
In an interview Thursday, Jesse Gronner, the Portland, Oregon-based vice president of development at Avangrid, says more wind farms may be in the works for North Carolina. He says the company is “actively” looking to expand the site by 30 to 50 turbines, resulting in an additional 100 megawatts of power. The turbines currently have 2-megawatt capacity. Turbine technology, however, is evolving. And already, Avangrid is using 2 to 3.5-megawatt equipment – meaning that higher-megawatt-capable turbines could lessen the silo count in future plans.
Gronner says his team is also analyzing other opportunities across North Carolina.
“We’re hoping to continue in the area of where we just built, as well as more broadly, finding other parts of the state where there are opportunities for wind and for solar,” he says. Avangrid isn’t deterred by a letter Republican leaders in Raleigh sent to the Trump administration, he says. In that letter, a group of legislators expressed concern over a wind project’s possible impact to military operations (something that Avangrid and others have refuted repeatedly). “If we have a strong partnership with the local community, if we have a dedicated [buyer] like Amazon who wants to see and utilize clean, affordable power, then we’re going to be able to do deals.”
But that partnership with the “local community,” could be tenuous.
Perquimans, one of two counties the Amazon wind farm spans, recently rejected a permit application for another utility scale project, citing aesthetics and property value concerns. To expand the Amazon wind farm, Avangrid would need to seek out additional permitting from Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.
Gronner wouldn’t comment on those developments in Perquimans, but he did say Avangrid’s bullish outlook on North Carolina hadn’t changed.
“I know this is new to the South and it’s new to North Carolina, but we’re pretty used to not everyone seeing eye-to-eye with us on renewable energy,” he says, adding that, as wind farms become “more of a matter of fact occurrence,” the criticism will dissipate. “This being the first utility-scale wind project in North Carolina, it’s really blazing a new trail, and that makes it much more of a challenge – but we’re proud to be the first ones to do it.”
Don Giecek, a senior project developer at Apex Clean Energy working to launch that second project in Perquimans and Chowan counties, find the fact that the Amazon farm is up and running encouraging.
He calls it “a milestone project for the Southeast.”
His team continues to pursue development in Chowan County while awaiting an appeal of Perquimans County’s decision to reject a key permit.
The Amazon farm will generate 208 megawatts of electricity each year – enough to power more than 61,000 homes.
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