If all goes well, Don Giecek, senior project manager for Virginia’s Apex Clean Energy, expects to see turbines spinning in the Chowan County sky in 2021.
The project is expected to be Chowan’s largest taxpayer, with property tax estimates ranging between $1.5 million and $2 million to the county.
But, so far, it has not all gone well.
And not just for Giecek’s plans in Chowan County. A recently expired statewide moratorium not only delayed his plans for more than a year, but also nixed Renewable Energy System’s proposal for Tyrrell County in 2017.
And new legislation could have an even bigger impact – as it, once again, would essentially prohibit wind farms from being built in eastern North Carolina.
This time Apex, whose plan was the only one in the state to survive the last moratorium, might not be so patient.
“We want to do business in North Carolina, but it’s challenging to top and restart and stop and restart time and time again,” Giecek says. “It affects schedules and other considerations.”
Some officials in eastern North Carolina say they feel helpless. Not only were they not consulted about the latest measure, but their repeated pleas for support have not been answered by Jones Street.
David Clegg, county manager for Tyrrell, says discussions with wind farm developers were just starting again when the latest bill was announced, causing an abrupt end to those conversations.
“We are certainly making every effort to have people take another look at this, to understand the economic issues involved,” he says, noting that, for his county, the stakes are extremely high. “It’s absolutely a game-changer.”
The entire valuation of Tyrrell County is about $650 million, Clegg estimates, noting that, of the state’s 100 counties, his has the smallest tax base. And, with the state and federal government owning more than 50 percent of the county (“which completely takes that off the tax books”), every dollar is crucial.
“One penny on our tax rate raises about $39,000,” he says. “The entire budget of Tyrrell County is about $6.5 million.”
And the developer that vacated plans for Tyrrell two years ago would have meant $300,000 in tax revenue.
“To talk about the significance of that, there’s just no adjectives to describe it,” Clegg says.
In Chowan, the Timbermill project would bring up to 48 massive wind turbines to farmland.
When the wind ban expired at the end of December, Giecek and his team scrambled to attention, restarting discussions and permit activities.
“It pushed our work back at least a year, probably more like 18 months,” he says.
But then another bill – sponsored by the same man who authored the moratorium, Sen. Harry Brown (who has not responded to requests to comment on the situation) – was introduced, again threatening the project, he says.
Giecek won’t say that Apex will follow Renewable Energy System’s example, but he does say that plans as they exist now would not be able to come to fruition under Brown’s bill.
Clegg says that, equally as frustrating, is the false “narrative” he says proponents of the legislation are putting out.
Brown has posited that the bill would prevent turbines from interfering with military bases. But wind proponents have said the map it follows would virtually prohibit the farms from being built on any land conducive to wind turbines. And they point out that the Department of Defense already has to sign off on any turbines before they’re constructed – calling the bill unnecessary.
Clegg, who participated in the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base review, says he’s had multiple conversations with local military leaders and has not heard anyone say the plans in Tyrrell conflicted with bases, training exercises or radar. But the site in his county – just like the one in Chowan – would be prohibited for wind farms under the proposed legislation.
Military officials interviewed by Triangle Business Journal last year pointed to existing Department of Defense requirements as being sufficient for wind farm approvals, and instead pointed to urban sprawl and suburban development as being the biggest risks to bases in the state.
Brown said in an interview last year that he had had multiple private conversations with military officials on the issue, but declined to name names.
The bill passed its first reading and is currently sitting in the Senate’s Commerce and Insurance Committee.
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