Months after calling for the Amazon Wind Farm US East to be shut down over its proximity to a military radar facility, state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, is sponsoring legislation imposing new regulations on wind farms.
Cook is one of three primary sponsors of Senate Bill 366, which sets new permitting, setback and decommissioning requirements for wind energy projects. The Amazon wind farm, now operational in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties, would not meet the bill’s requirements but is grandfathered in. The bill states its requirements apply to wind facilities applying for permits after it becomes law.
Were the bill law, however, it could complicate or prevent the Amazon wind farm’s expansion. It’s also unclear what impact the legislation would have on other wind energy projects still in development.
SB 366 requires wind developers to perform more detailed studies of a potential project’s impacts to military operations, public health, the local economy and to the environment and wildlife. Additionally, the bill sets new setback requirements. Turbines must not be within one mile or 10 times the maximum height of a turbine’s blade tip, whichever is greater, of a residential property line. Offshore turbines must be more than 24 miles from shore, and no turbine in any wind energy facility can be within 30 miles of a “major military installation.”
The bill also provides that, in determining how a large a bond or other “financial assurance” a developer must provide to cover turbine decommissioning costs, developers may not consider the scrap value of facility components.
The bill would also apply those requirements to expansions of current wind energy facilities.
In an email, Cook said he believes mile-setbacks for wind turbines are “reasonable” based on studies and legal precedents.
“This particular legislation, (S366), would add safeguards to protect our military, environment, farmers and citizens,” Cook’s email states. He noted a companion bill, House Bill 470, has been filed in the House.
Wind developers opposed S366 in emails Tuesday.
“We do not wish to comment on specifics at this time, but we are opposed to this bill,” Art Sasse, a spokesman for project developer Avangrid Renewables said in an email.
Sasse declined to answer questions about how the legislation would affect land Avangrid has secured for offshore wind development off Kitty Hawk, nor would he address if the bill would prevent expansion of the Amazon wind farm.
Pasquotank County Planning Director Shelley Cox said a significant part of Avangrid’s Amazon wind farm project lies within 30 miles of the Navy’s Northwest Annex in Chesapeake, Virginia. The annex is identified in S366 as a major military installation. Noting Avangrid has said it plans to expand the Amazon project from 104 to 150 turbines, she also noted the additional turbines would be even closer to the facility. Cox also said a few of the project’s turbines are within a mile of residential property.
Cox said Pasquotank County did allow Avangrid to factor in the value of salvage for its turbines when the company was seeking local approval for the project. The company posted a bond of about $2.46 million to cover the 54 turbines that are in Pasquotank, or about $45,500 per turbine site, she said. That’s less than the $100,000 per-turbine minimum in the bill, but Cox said the developer is required to update its decommissioning cost estimates every five years and increase its bond amount if needed.
The bill’s requirements could also apply to the Timbermill wind farm project proposed by Apex Clean Energy in Chowan and Perquimans counties. A spokesman for the Apex project said the bill’s provisions “far exceed” the requirements in county ordinances in northeastern North Carolina.
“While we’ve not reviewed this bill closely, this proposal is clearly designed to discourage clean energy investment,” said Apex spokesman Don Giecek. “Wind energy is already creating jobs and revenue for rural North Carolina … (and helps) family farms, local schools, and local businesses.”
An interest group for renewable energy, the NS Sustainable Energy Association, also opposes the bill requirements, stating they have “nothing to do with safety and everything to do with making wind facilities economically unviable.”
State Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, said he also opposes the bill, claiming it fits into a long pattern by wind energy opponents to undermine wind energy projects. He noted a wind farm moratorium and other restrictive legislation has also been proposed this session.
Steinburg said the military has long been on record in favor of an “all of the above” approach to energy, and said wind energy opponents are using concerns about military impacts as a “straw man” to further an “ideological” agenda. He noted he and other lawmakers toured the Northwest Annex recently, and Naval personnel were satisfied with the Amazon wind farm and complimentary of Avangrid.
Steinburg also said he feels the current permitting process for wind projects is already rigorous and effectively mitigates their impacts. He also criticized S366 as not allowing flexibility from project to project. Some military facilities would be fine with turbines far closer than 30 miles, he said.
While the state House has generally looked more favorably upon wind energy projects than the Senate has, Steinburg declined to predict how the legislation would fare in the House. He said he could predict “spirited debate” on the legislation, believing wind energy supporters “have facts on our side.”
State Rep. Howard Hunter III, D-Hertford, could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday. Hunter and Steinburg both represent Pasquotank County in the Legislature.
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