Wind farm debated

Published 12:49 am Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Leaders don’t plan on adopting a so-called “wind ordinance”

The debate over a proposed wind farm in eastern Beaufort County moved to the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners on Monday with proponents and opponents of the project making their opinions known.

After hearing from both sides, the board did not take an official position on it. After the meeting, some board members said they likely would not take an official position.

Unlike government leaders in several neighboring counties, Beaufort County leaders said they don’t anticipate adopting a so-called “wind ordinance” that would provide local standards for wind-farm operations in addition to state and federal regulations.

Those board members who talked to the Washington Daily News said they preferred to view the possible siting of a wind farm in Beaufort County as a matter between private landowners and an individual corporation. They left open the option for additional study once they are more familiar with the issues.

“There are already a lot of provisions that protect the public,” said Commissioner Robert Cayton. “Is that enough? I don’t know. That’s something we’re going to have to find out.”

Despite assurances from representatives of Invenergy, the parent company of Pantego Wind Energy LLC, that it will strive to protect the migrating swans and waterfowl in the area, opposition to the project continues to mount from environmental groups and others who have asked the N.C. Utilities Commission to delay approval of the project until additional studies are completed.

Most recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a letter to the commission dated Dec. 6, wrote that “detrimental impacts to tundra swans from the proposed wind farm are likely.” The letter continues to read “(d)irect mortality from blade strikes, if they occur, might be considered a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.”

Also recently, a director of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh, and a Duke University ecology professor, have expressed concern about the project in letters to the utilities panel.

On Monday, members of the Friends of the Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge told Beaufort County leaders that they continued to fear the project’s effects on wildlife.

“The best idea of a project in the wrong location becomes the worst idea of a project,” said Larry Hodges, an officer of the group.

Pantego Wind Energy has sought approval from the utilities panel to build an 80-megawatt, 49-turbine wind farm in eastern Beaufort County that could generate enough power for 15,000 homes.

In a presentation to the county board Monday, April Montgomery, an Invenergy representative, said Beaufort County could see up to $1 million a year from the project, including property tax revenue, lease payments to landowners and salaries paid to area employees.

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

Montgomery told the board that if the project is approved, Invenergy will exceed the standards outlined in North Carolina’s model wind ordinance and locate its turbines no closer than one-fourth of a mile from any house and at least 750 feet from any road.

Invenergy has signed 40-year lease agreements with landowners in the project area. Those leases require Invenergy to remove the turbines and other equipment from the land at the end of the project.

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.

Invenergy has contracted with Blanton and Associates of Austin, Texas, to conduct a study of migratory birds in the area. That study will continue through mid-March, generally considered the end of the season for overwintering swans and waterfowl, according to Jack Godshall, Invenergy business-development manager.

Once that study is completed, Invenergy will be able to better determine what revisions, if any, need to be made to the project to protect the area’s wildlife, Godshall said in an interview with the Daily News.