On March 28, Representative John Bell introduced bipartisan legislation — House Bill 484 — establishing a permitting program that takes into consideration the adverse impacts that “wind farms” can have on military readiness in North Carolina. HB484 passed its final reading in the House of Representatives on May 1 with an overwhelming vote of 112-2.
“Today’s passage of HB484 was a huge win for protecting our military’s low-altitude training routes, bombing practice ranges and other critical military interests in North Carolina,” commented Representative Bell shortly after the House gave its approval to his legislation. “The vote ensures that North Carolina stays the most military-friendly state in the nation.”
Wind farms can jeopardize low-altitude military training operations conducted in the state by the Air Force, Marine Corps and the Army. Tall wind turbines, sometimes constructed at heights of 500 feet or more, can interfere with some low-level military air operations. Turbines also emit radio frequencies that interfere with military navigational, operational, communications and weapons systems. Current regulations do not provide service branches an opportunity for advocacy to the state regarding impacts on readiness as a consideration in the siting and permitting of wind turbines.
The legislation was prompted largely by the recent North Carolina Utilities Commission authorization of the construction of a proposed 49 turbine, 80 megawatt electric generating facility by Pantego Wind Energy, LLC, covering 11,000 acres in Beaufort County, that expects to provide electricity to 15,000 homes. The turbines reach nearly 500 feet into the air, and the blades would achieve rotational speeds of more than 100 miles per hour.
During evaluation of the project, there was no mechanism in place to inform the Utilities Commission of the potential hazards, and the Commission has no authority to reject the proposal under current law. The plant is seeking federal permits from the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and also requires state permits from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It is scheduled to be operational and generating electricity by late 2013.
The U.S. military is the second largest economic sector in the state — just behind agriculture — employing 400,000 people and accounting for $23 billion in gross revenue. HB484 would add provisions to the law that would ensure compatibility among new wind energy facilities and environmental sensitivity, the military’s mission and the economy.
Wind farms not only pose a threat to military training programs, they present a danger to migrating birds, bats and Tundra swans which inhabit the 110,000 acre coastal wetlands of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Current law encourages “harmony between public utilities, their users and the environment,” but does not require any site-specific or environmental data for facilities providing under 300 megawatts, and only limited data is required for larger facilities.
The new regulations would be placed under the oversight of the NCDENR, which has a long history of working closely with the military in the state on matters of mutual concern.
“I’d like to thank everyone that helped with all the input that went into this legislation,” summed up Representative Bell. “That includes my colleagues in the General Assembly, legislative staff, a number of military affairs organizations, DENR, and the many other subject-matter experts and stakeholders that were involved. They crafted what will end up being a model piece of legislation for the entire country.”
The major military installations that would be protected by this legislation include Fort Bragg, Pope Army Airfield, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, New River Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point, the United States Coast Guard Air Station at Elizabeth City, Naval Support Activity Northwest, Air Route Surveillance Radar (ARSR) at Fort Fisher, and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base — in its own right, and as the responsible entity for the Dare County Bombing Range.