In Tyrell County, a two-and-a-half hour drive from Raleigh, officials were preparing for a windfall, “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in tax revenue, says County Manager David Clegg.
British firm Renewable Energy Systems had tentatively agreed to bring a $200 million wind farm to the rural county – and excitement was palpable.
“We had already scheduled the public event where people could come view the plans,” Clegg recalls.
“Then, literally one week out, the moratorium happened.” On Jones Street in Raleigh, legislators passed a wind farm moratorium effectively halting the project in its tracks.
While Clegg’s team begged its RES contacts to wait out the storm, they got the official word last year – the company was pulling its plans entirely.
“We worked very hard on it and are very disappointed and hope that another one will come along,” Clegg says. “Tyrell County is open for business.”
Today, more than a month after the moratorium’s Dec. 31 expiration, just one developer’s North Carolina plan survives – that of Apex Clean Energy’s 48-turbine Timbermill Wind Farm in Chowan County.
“We hope to finally move forward,” confirms Dan Giecek, senior development manager.
Katharine Kollins, president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition, says it’s likely Apex will stand alone for some time, as the moratorium “dampened the excitement for a lot of developers.”
“We’re hopeful that the Apex project continues on a successful permitting path … I don’t see any other land-based projects being developed in the next three years,” Kollins says.
Giecek says his team had been watching North Carolina lawmakers to see if the moratorium would put momentum behind legislative efforts to squelch wind energy in the state. But that hasn’t happened. Since enacting the controversial moratorium, legislators have been relatively quiet on the wind front – even those who repeatedly vocalized their concerns about the turbines in the state, like N.C. Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jones, Onslow) who authored the wind moratorium. Brown did not return requests to comment for this story.
“With the moratorium in place, it kind of put some things on hold for us for a while,” Giecek says, noting that it’s possible certain studies might have to be repeated and permits updated. “It essentially pushed our schedule back a little bit … but the moratorium expiring has given us the momentum to restart a lot of the conversations and the efforts that we had been working on to get all of that in place and up and running again.”
Giecek says the current plan is to kick off commercial operations in 2021.
Right now, the only utility-scale wind farm in North Carolina is the Amazon Wind Farm spinning near Elizabeth City, developed by Avangrid Renewables.
As Apex works on finalizing its plans in Chowan, Avangrid continues in its efforts to one day develop a wind farm off of the North Carolina coast. On Thursday, Avangrid spokesman Paul Copleman said the company had submitted its energy grid interconnection applications and is “in the process of planning environmental surveys that we expect will take place later this year.”
In October, executives at the Oregon firm said the timeframe had moved up, potentially as early as 2025.
And Kollins says that, throughout the East Coast, interest in offshore wind energy is increasing. States are even going public with aggressive energy goals, such as New York’s pledge to secure 2,400 megawatts of clean energy – enough to power 1.2 million homes. It’s those kinds of policies that will drive the technology further, she says, adding that she’s “hopeful” to see these kinds of pledges accelerate in the Southeast.
As for Apex, Giecek says the moratorium has not lessened its interest in the state.
“We are considering additional investments in North Carolina,” he says, declining to be specific. “We definitely want to do business in North Carolina.”
Initially, Apex had planned Timbermill to be a much larger project, one that would also include Perquimans County. But Perquimans County Commissioners voted against a critical permit, setting back Apex’s plans
Giecek says Apex – which initially fought that decision – has now ruled out Perquimans County.
“We see the project as one that is ideally suited for Chowan and we intend to follow through with it in Chowan going forward,” he says.