RALEIGH, N.C. — Legislation that would bar wind-energy operations in military training areas across much of North Carolina cleared the state Senate on Monday night after the chamber opposed making changes that would keep the door open for more projects.
The bill, which now heads to the House after a 33-14 vote, would prohibit the facilities in a large swatch of central and eastern North Carolina. The measure got support from senators concerned that allowing tall wind turbines in low-altitude training routes for jets and helicopter would strike a blow against preserving units at military installations.
"I can tell you right now that a community, as far as the military is concerned, that is reactive is going to lose their military presence," said Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico, whose district includes Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station. "You cannot take a third of your largest economic driver in the state and throw it under the bus."
The legislation refers to a map developed for the state's Military Affairs Commission where wind-energy projects would be prohibited, although bill critics contend the boundaries are different compared with what the Department of Defense considers training areas.
One wind project already under construction in Perquimans County wouldn't be subject to the new rules, while two projects currently seeking federal approval — but not yet state permitting through the Department of Environmental Quality — are at risk of being halted.
A proposed amendment by Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, designed to allow the projects in Tyrrell County and between Edenton and Hertford to continue was defeated by a 20-28 vote. The two projects could generate a combined $700 million in investment.
Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, the bill's chief author, warned colleagues "I don't think anybody knows how many would be grandfathered in" should Hartsell's amendment pass. The Senate also rejected another amendment by Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, that would have reduced significantly prohibited regions.
The bill would allow the state's new Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to review permit applications and recommend to the Department of Environmental Quality whether to approve or deny based on how turbines could affect military installations. The state Department of Health and Human Services also would review whether the proposed turbine could affect human health.
The House has approved separate legislation that only studies the military department's role in permit applications.
Environmental groups say the current permit process created in 2013 allows for give and take from the military while still helping the state's economy and environment.
"The proposed legislation adds unnecessary complexity and uncertainty for businesses navigating the wind permitting process," Melissa Dickerson with the state Sierra Club said in a release.