Despite a moratorium on new N.C. wind projects, Apex Clean Energy Inc. continues to “explore options” for its proposed $300 million Timbermill Wind farm.
The moratorium’s proponents presented it as a measure to ensure that wind development in the state would not interfere with flight training at N.C. military bases. Although the state already has procedures in place to consider any military objections to wind projects – and the military has approved of plans for wind projects in the state – those advocates insisted on a halt to permits while some wind issues are reconsidered.
Kevin Chandler, Apex’s senior manager of federal affairs, says the company is encouraged by an executive order Cooper issued at the same time as signing the bill. It commits the state to working with wind developers on pre-permit work and seeks to expedite permitting when the moratorium lifts in mid-2018.
“We understand the position the governor was in, and we are grateful for his commitment to work proactively to support wind energy development during the moratorium period,” Chandler says.
But the developer remains concerned that, despite Cooper’s efforts, there will be additional anti-wind developments in the state.
He says Apex fears the moratorium could be extended next year, much in the same way that it was imposed this year although there seemed to be broad opposition to the proposal.
Also, Apex fears the instructions in the law to prepare new maps for determining the impact of wind projects on military bases – even though such maps have already been drawn – might create new bureaucratic hurdles to wind projects.
“The moratorium is anti-clean energy legislation shrouded as a pro-military measure,” Chandler says. “There are very clear federal and state processes already existing to work though military and wind energy interactions, and they work well.”
If any of those fears are realized, Apex could be forced to reconsider whether the project can be built.
Clean energy advocates have lined up to support the wind industry, even as they praised Cooper’s decision to sign the bill.
The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association had been among the groups most active in the nine months of often testy negotiations that led to the original bill. That bill was designed largely as a compromise between the state’s dominant power company, Duke Energy, and its growing solar industry. Wind interests were not directly represented in any of the negotiations, because renewable advocates and the House leaders sponsoring the compromise effort expected wind issues would be addressed separately.
Ivan Urlaub, NCSEA’s executive director, says Reps. John Szoka (R-Cumberland) and Dean Arp (R-Union) deserve credit along with House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) for shepherding the initial bill through those negotiations and the House. And he applauds Cooper’s decision.
“The introduction of the unnecessary and anti-business wind energy moratorium added to the legislation by the Senate put NCSEA between a rock and a hard place,” Urlaub says. “Wind energy and eastern North Carolina communities were dealt a huge – and totally unnecessary – blow; a blow that, as an organization dedicated to championing all forms of clean energy, we cannot stand behind.”
Urlaub pledged that his group would follow Cooper’s lead in working to shore up the wind industry and to prevent further interference with its development.
Chris Carmody, executive director of the N.C. Clean Business Alliance, sounds a similar note. He praises the impact of the legislation on solar and some other renewable energy sources. And he says the problems created for the wind industry must be addressed.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the administration and legislature to create a more business-friendly environment for the wind industry and other renewable energy sources, and to foster more market competition and choice for business and residential consumers alike,” he says.
The support from the governor and other groups is encouraging to the wind industry. But Chandler says uncertainty about the state’s future course remains.
And it must be noted that Cooper and all the groups involved in drafting the initial bill, as well as many in the legislature, had been opposed to the wind moratorium from the start.
Indeed, the moratorium legislation appeared dead in the N.C. Senate until principal sponsor Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow) and a handful of like-minded senators added the moratorium to HB 589 in committee. The efforts by clean energy advocates and political opponents of the measure to get it off the bill or kill it in House-Senate conference failed.
There is one operating wind project in the state – the 208-megawatt Amazon Wind Farm near Elizabeth City.
Apex is currently looking at what would be about a 150-megawatt farm in Chowan County, although the full Timbermill project would be 300 megawatts and include a substantial number of wind turbines in Perquimans County. Perquimans has currently blocked that part of the project, but Apex has appealed that decision.
The other active project in the state right now is Renewable Energy Systems’ 200-megawatt Little Alligator wind farm in Tyrell County.
Neither Apex nor Little Alligator have yet applied for state permits.
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