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Legislators add wind moratorium to energy bill in evening committee

As the legislative session winds down on Jones Street, a familiar issue is coming back to the forefront: a wind moratorium.

A handful of legislators have repeatedly said they fear turbines – such as the new Amazon wind farm near Elizabeth City – endanger military flight paths.

Despite stringent requirements that all projects receive Department of Defense approval, North Carolina legislators have introduced multiple bills to make it harder or even impossible to construct new projects.

So far, all of those moratorium attempts have failed. House Bill 589 is the latest. It heads to the Senate Finance Committee and could soon be fast-tracked for a vote.

The bill, called “Competitive Energy Solutions for N.C.,” was originally filed in April. And its original language doesn’t address wind energy. But late Monday in a Senate Finance Committee, legislators added a three-year moratorium on utility-scale wind projects. The goal, according to the new text, is to allow for time to study impact to military operations.

Wind developers and proponents have repeatedly called measures like this unnecessary, as projects already have to pass military muster before they’re built. Avangrid, which developed the project for Amazon, worked with the Department of Defense to plan the project, company officials have said.

The edited bill goes to a Senate rules committee Tuesday.

Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jones, Onslow), who has put his name on multiple bills that would restrict utility-scale wind projects in the state, didn’t respond to emails and calls Monday. But in an opinion piece he inked for the Jacksonville Daily News earlier this month, he repeated a claim he’s made before – that wind turbines endanger North Carolina’s military bases.

“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,” he wrote.

Rep. Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan), an outspoken opponent wind moratoriums, says he fully expects the issue to keep coming up – despite his take that the military has adequately addressed these kinds of concerns.

“I don’t think a complete moratorium is going to, in my opinion, meet with favor in the house,” he said Monday prior to the bill’s edit.

While the Amazon wind farm is currently the state’s only utility-scale project, plans are underway for more farms.

Apex Clean Energy’s project, dubbed “Timbermill,” is the farthest along, having obtained a crucial permit in Chowan County for a massive, 105-turbine project. It’s awaiting the results of its appeal of a permit in Perquimans County as it finalizes its plans.

Proponents say the wind industry means jobs in North Carolina.