A controversial ban on new wind turbines in all or part of more than 40 counties, including almost all of Eastern North Carolina, advanced in the state legislature Thursday.
The bill’s main proponent, Republican Sen. Harry Brown of Jacksonville, said the wind turbine ban is needed to protect airspace for military test flights and to keep military installations in the state.
Critics said the bill is unnecessary because the Department of Defense already makes sure that planned wind facilities won’t interfere with military flights.
An 18-month moratorium on new wind turbines in the state, which Brown pushed two years ago, stalled a wind project that a Charlottesville, Va., company called Apex Clean Energy is planning in Chowan County. All of Chowan is in the restricted zone, and a ban could kill the project.
Senate Bill 377 cleared the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee on a close voice vote. The committee chairman did not ask for an exact tally, and one of the Republican members said later that he did not vote.
Legislators are split over the value of wind energy. Brown, the Senate majority leader, is a force for restricting wind turbines. The state’s military bases are too important to the economy to risk a future federal commission recommending shutting state bases because turbines would be in the way of pilot training, he said.
“Without these bases, I can’t even begin to tell you what it would do to the economy in Eastern North Carolina,” Brown said.
Opponents said a ban is unnecessary because the Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse and the Federal Aviation Administration already prevent conflicts.
Adam Forrer, a manager for the Southeastern Wind Coalition, said North Carolina would be the only state legislature to pass a wind-energy ban.
An Amazon wind farm in Pasquotank County was built after an evaluation by the military reduced the number of turbines, said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat. The federal evaluations worked, McKissick said.
“Why do we move forward with a bill like this?” he asked.
Betsy McCorkle, a lobbyist for Apex Clean Energy, said legislators don’t have to choose between the military and wind. They co-exist throughout the country, she said.
“The Department of Defense is reviewing our project turbine by turbine,” she said.
Chowan was looking forward to the wind farm, and the $800,000 in tax revenue it was projected to generate in its first year, The News & Observer has reported.
Some Republican senators said legislators should be concerned about the economic benefits the military bases bring, and what would happen if they closed.
“This is not a fear bill, but everybody in this room needs to be concerned about the second-greatest economic driver in our state,” said Sen. Norm Sanderson, a Pamlico County Republican.
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