Legislation that would block wind turbines from going up in a large swath of North Carolina’s coast cleared its first hurdle in the Senate on Thursday and could be on the Senate floor by early next week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown called Senate Bill 377 critical to North Carolina’s effort to fend off the military’s next round of base closures. Having wind farms encroach on the ability of the Army, Air Force and Marines to train near any of their bases in the eastern part of the state could quickly become a reason for the Defense Department to close or scale down one or more of those bases, he said.
“You can’t respond after it’s done,” said Brown, R-Onslow.
Two years ago, Brown succeeded in tacking an 18-month wind farm moratorium into a bill overhauling the state’s solar energy policies so state and military officials could determine where giant wind turbines might pose a problem for military training exercises.
“I was told I didn’t have data” to oppose wind farm development, he said. “I now have the data.”
A series of maps and overlays developed by the state Department of Commerce and an engineering firm detail low-, medium- and high-risk areas for wind farms and military training. The bill would prohibit wind farms in high-risk areas, including a 100-mile swath along the coast between the Virginia state line and Camp Lejeune.
Brown cited the example of Griffis Air Force Base near Rome, N.Y., which he said cost the region 25,000 jobs when it closed.
“New York failed to protect it,” he said. “If you don’t think that can happen in North Carolina, you’re being might shortsighted.”
Griffis closed in 1995 – five years before New York’s first wind farm was developed in a neighboring county – but it is now home to 5,800 workers in a business and technology park that includes cybersecurity, aviation, logistics, health care and education companies, according to the Rome Sentinel newspaper.
“People call this Sen. Brown’s wind bill. This isn’t my wind bill,” Brown said. “Anybody that represents a military community, it’s their wind bill.”
“Everybody in this room needs to think about the second-largest economic driver in this state,” agreed Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico.
But Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said the legislation is unnecessary because the DOD and the Federal Aviation Administration already review proposed wind farms to determine if they could pose a problem for the military. He noted that an Amazon wind farm in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties was cut from 149 turbines down to 104 because it was near Navy facilities in southeastern Virginia.
“You do not have to make this choice,” Betsy McCorkle, a lobbyist for Apex Clean Energy, told members of the Senate Commerce and Insurance committee.
Apex wants to develop a $300 million wind farm in Chowan County, but the legislation would prevent that.
“No one in the military is asking you to do this,” McCorkle said, noting that the DOD is already reviewing Apex’s project “turbine by turbine.”
Nancy Thompson, director of government affairs for Weyerhaeuser, said the wood products company manages 600,000 acres of timber in North Carolina, including some of the land for the Amazon wind farm. She said the bill violates the property rights of landowners who might want to sell or lease to a wind farm developer.
“This is not 18 months this time,” Thompson said, referring to the moratorium that ended last December. “This is a permanent ban, and it has an effect.”
“That doesn’t hold water,” Brown said, scoffing at the property rights argument.
Wind farms depress the values of adjacent properties owners, he said, because no one would want to build houses or offices in the shadow of giant wind turbines.
Texas and New York have already adopted wind farm restrictions near military bases, Brown said, and Virginia is considering some as well.
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