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Developers assessing impact of North Carolina wind moratorium

A bill containing an 18-month wind farm moratorium awaits Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature in Raleigh.

The measure, passed overnight on the final day of the General Assembly, could be just the latest blow for Apex Clean Energy, which has been trying to finalize its plans for a 105-turbine farm on 15,000 acres of timber and farm land in eastern North Carolina.

If built, the farm is expected to have a capacity of up to 300 megawatts – enough energy to power up to 60,000 homes.

But the moratorium is just the latest challenge. Some of the tract’s neighbors spoke out at public hearings, worried about the aesthetics of the turbines and their impact on property values. Those concerns led commissioners in Perquimans County to reject a pivotal permit, even after Chowan County approved the project.

Apex has appealed that decision.

But the moratorium passed overnight doesn’t address aesthetics. Its language is solely centered around concerns about military operations – something developers have repeatedly said is moot, as the projects already have to get Department of Defense approval.

Apex isn’t the only the company evaluating its options.

Executives at Avangrid, the firm behind the Amazon wind farm near Elizabeth City that is currently the only utility scale project spinning in the state, had previously said they’d like to keep investing in North Carolina.

In February, Jesse Gronner, the Portland, Oregon-based vice president of development at Avangrid, said the firm was “actively” looking to expand the Amazon site by 30 to 50 turbines. And it was looking to find other parts of the state where there might be opportunities for wind and solar. And in March, the company bid $9.1 million, winning the rights to lease more than 122,000 acres off the coast of Kitty Hawk for what could some day be the state’s first offshore wind farm.

And the investments aren’t just a boost in terms of energy.

Avangrid, thanks to the Amazon farm, is now the largest corporate taxpayer in both Perquimans and Pasquotank counties. And the farm leases land from about 60 property owners who get paid $5,000 per year, per turbine.

“As we fully assess the impacts, we remain focused on our onshore development in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties,” said Avangrid spokesman Paul Copleman following the bill’s passage. “We’ll continue to work collaboratively with the Department of Defense to assess any potential effects of additional wind generation there.”

He declined to comment further.

Sen. Harry Brown (S-Jones, Onslow), the author of the moratorium, hasn’t returned multiple requests to comment on the measure.

Don Geicek, senior project developer for Apex Clean Energy’s Timbermill Wind, said Friday his team was still evaluating the measure and declined to comment.

But the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association released a statement Friday criticizing the moratorium and the way it was edited into the bill during an evening committee this week. It had supported the original, moratorium-free version of the bill.

“Unfortunately, the final negotiations that occurred late last night … became tarnished with the inclusion of an unnecessary 18-month moratorium on the permitting of wind projects through Dec. 31, 2018,” the statement reads.