RALEIGH, N.C. — Applicants for wind farm operators would face additional state regulatory hurdles to address military training and public health in legislation recommended Wednesday by a state Senate committee.
The bill, which alters a 2013 state permitting law for the emerging industry, also would prohibit construction or expansion of wind-energy facilities across large sections of North Carolina land where military air maneuvers and other training are performed.
Supporters of the measure said these limits would discourage key units at the state's military installations — some of the state's largest economic engines — from leaving because of training and pilot safety concerns.
A map developed for the state's Military Affairs Commission and identified in the legislation includes broad swaths of land, heavily weighted toward the coast, where military training and low-altitude flying is performed. Wind turbines are hundreds of feet tall.
"When you start allowing structures that aren't compatible with the training ... you create a huge liability for the future of those bases," said Republican Sen. Harry Brown of Onslow County, which is home to Camp Lejeune and two Marine Corps air stations. He added later "a 500-foot wind turbine in the middle of a flight pattern of a jet going 1,000 mph doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me."
Other senators and speakers at the committee hearing said the bill, in its current form, could sink two proposed wind energy projects, one in Perquimans and Chowan counties and another in Tyrrell County, with an estimated combined $700 million investment, leading to tax revenues and payments for land use.
The additional layer of regulation along with the regions that would be prohibited for projects, could discourage future investments, they said. Several federal permits are already required and the Pentagon already works with prospective wind project developers to address potential training problems identified by local commanders.
Melissa Dickerson, coastal coordinator for the state Sierra Club, said in a release that "some senators appear to be seeking to prevent any new wind projects" in eastern North Carolina.
The proposal would direct the state's new Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to review a permit application and recommend to the Department of Environmental Quality whether to approve or deny based on how the turbines could affect military installations. The state Department of Health and Human Services also would review if the turbine proposal could affect human health, whether through noise or shadows on the ground caused by turbine blades.
The proposed bill, which now goes to the full Senate, would place the new regulations on any state applications submitted on or after the date the bill became law. Attorneys for energy companies interested in building the Tyrrell and Perquimans-Chowan project said that they would not meet the qualifications, and urged the entire bill be reconsidered.
"We think that the right balance has already been set ... and we don't believe further additional regulatory requirements are necessary to ensure that the military is protected in this process," Matt Wolfe, a lawyer representing Apex Energy and RES Americas, the energy firms, told the committee.
Democrats on the committee urged Brown to alter the legislation to allow the two projects to avoid the new permitting. Brown told colleagues he would work with them but stood firm on the new map laying out prohibited areas in which to build.
Cornell Wilson, secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, praised the legislation for allowing his agency to get involved in the process. He warned about making it more difficult for North Carolina military air forces to do their jobs. If "they can't train properly they'll just move those aircraft to someplace else," Wilson told senators.