Wind farm planned for Pantego

Published 1:18 am Friday, September 9, 2011

An 80-megawatt wind farm that could generate enough power for 15,000 homes is planned for eastern Beaufort County.

The nation’s largest independent owners of wind-generating facilities in the United States are behind the plan.

Although the energy generated by the wind farm is destined to be shared with 12 other states and the District of Columbia, Beaufort County could see up to $1 million a year, including property tax revenue, lease payments to landowners and salaries to local employees, from the project.

Pantego Wind Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Invenergy, earlier this month filed an application with the N.C. Utilities Commission for permission to build 49 492-foot-tall turbines on 11,000 acres near Terra Ceia and Pantego.

If approved, construction on the project could begin as early as the second quarter of 2012, with commercial operations beginning as early as December 2012, according to information provided by Invenergy about the project.

“The application we’ve filed marks the first step in an extensive regulatory review of the proposed Pantego Wind Energy Center that will include numerous local, state and federal agencies,” company officials said in a statement released by Alissa Krinsky, Invenergy’s director of communications. “We look forward to working closely with our host community, contributing to its economic development and providing a new supply of clean, homegrown energy in North Carolina.”

The N.C. Utilities Commission scheduled its first review of the project later this month, with a public hearing in Beaufort County tentatively set for mid-November.

In addition to approval from the commission, the company will need approval from several federal and state agencies for the project. Those agencies include the Federal Aviation Administration, which will review the project for its effects on the area’s military airspace.

“It’s a tremendous investment for the tax base,” said Beaufort County Manager Randell K. Woodruff.

He also said the location of a wind farm in the county would be an important example of “green energy” that could attract attention to the county from a variety of visitors and businesses.

Woodruff was one of several eastern North Carolina leaders invited in June to tour an Invenergy-operated wind farm in Marseilles, Ill., near Chicago.

The Pantego project would be the second wind farm scheduled to be built in eastern North Carolina. Earlier this year, the N.C. Utilities Commission approved a 300-megawatt wind farm in Pasquotank County planned by Iberdrola, a company based in Spain.

As part of the Beaufort County project, Invenergy and its affiliated companies have signed more than 20 lease agreements with landowners in the project area, according to information provided by the company.

Tom Thompson, director of the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission, said the area’s economy would benefit from the payments area farmers receive from those leases.

“They can continue to farm their lands and benefit from a guaranteed source of income,” he said.

Invenergy expects to employ about 100 construction workers as the wind farm is built and about five permanent operations and maintenance workers once the project is operational.

When completed, the wind farm is expected to be connected to Dominion’s substation near Pantego and power transmitted along electrical transmission lines operated by PJM Interconnection, a regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, according to company filings with the commission.

Recent changes in state law have prompted increased interest in renewable energy in North Carolina.

Eastern Beaufort County has drawn great interest from several solar- and wind-energy companies, according to Heidi Smith, a spokeswoman for Pantego-based Tideland Electric Membership Corp. The area is gaining that attention because of its relatively flat terrain, winds of sufficient speed to operate wind turbines and its prime location at the end of the PJM transmission lines, she said.

The Beaufort County project is one of two projects under development by Invenergy. The company expects to file permit applications for a project near Hales Lake, Va., by the end of 2011.

Invenergy and its affiliated companies have developed and placed in service 26 wind farms with a total operating capacity of 2,436 megawatts and five natural gas-fueled generating facilities.