It is hard to imagine what eastern North Carolina would look like without our military bases. The impact they have had on our state’s culture and economy cannot be overstated – particularly in the district I represent which is home to Camp Lejeune, the largest Marine base on the east coast.
North Carolina is home to six major Department of Defense (DOD) installations, having the third largest military population in the entire nation. The military sector is the state’s second largest industry – benefitting 79 of 100 counties, supporting more than 575,000 jobs, and contributing $34 billion in personal income and $66 billion in gross state product.
As a member of the NC Senate and a representative of the constituents in my district, one of my top priorities is to protect our state’s military installations and the hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians employed in jobs supporting the military. After learning of concerns that some military flight routes could be compromised by tall wind turbines which could endanger paratroopers and pilots and interfere with aircraft radar systems and training routes, I introduced legislation to address this issue.
The bill I introduced, the Military Operations Protection Act, would establish a moratorium on applications for permits on new wind energy facilities, and facility expansions, in the state until an independent, data-driven study could be conducted to create definitive maps and other relevant data to identify areas of the state, both onshore and offshore, where energy infrastructure and development poses a threat to military operations, training capabilities, or readiness.
This approach would ensure there are no conflicts with existing installations before additional projects are developed. The completion of this study would provide both the military and wind energy developers with certainty – knowing that any future wind projects in the designated areas could be developed without adversely affecting military operations in the state.
Some critics of this approach have expressed concern that a moratorium on wind development until this issue can be resolved would cost jobs in the state. But the reality is the number of jobs created as a result of the wind industry, and the even smaller number of jobs that might be delayed or lost as a result of a temporary moratorium, pales in comparison to the number of jobs dependent on North Carolina’s second highest economic driver – the military.
North Carolina’s military installations are heavily dependent on air missions, and failing to address the concern regarding tall wind turbines could harm their viability and standing as they are considered in future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission discussions.
The presence of our military installations in North Carolina cannot be taken for granted. Just last year, in spite of the efforts of state and local leaders to stop it, the Air Force deactivated Fort Bragg’s 440th Airlift Wing, which at one time had more than 1,200 personnel. Anything that might be detrimental to training conditions on our North Carolina bases can be used as an advantage by representatives of other states who are continuously pitching their military installations for expansion.
When officials in Texas determined that incompatibly sited wind turbines might adversely affect military operations there by interfering with critical radar systems and creating safety issues, the Texas state legislature addressed the issue with a bill that was signed into law just last week.
My priority is to honor our commitment to being the most military-friendly state in the country and to protect and preserve the military mission in our state. While local leaders may benefit in the short term from wind development, my duty is to look at the long term impact to our state if any of our installations were to relocate elsewhere. The loss of any of our installations has the potential to devastate entire communities and the resulting ripple effect on surrounding areas could be felt for generations to come.
The legislation I introduced would help protect the investment the U.S. military has made in our state’s installations by ensuring their operations, training capabilities, and readiness are not inadvertently compromised by new wind turbine farms. In North Carolina, we are privileged to host our military installations and their economic contribution to the state is virtually unrivaled. It would be irresponsible to put this mutually beneficial relationship at risk.
Senator Harry Brown is currently serving his seventh term in the North Carolina Senate representing District 6 – Jones and Onslow counties – and has served as majority leader for the past seven years.
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