Wind farm decision near

Published 12:34 am Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The N.C. Utilities Commission is nearing a decision on an 80-megawatt wind farm proposed for the eastern part of the county by a subsidiary of the nation’s largest private owner of wind-generated energy in the country, state and company officials told the Washington Daily News.

The commission could rule as soon as this month on an application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity to give the go-ahead to Pantego Wind Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Invenergy, for the project planned for 11,000 acres near Terra Ceia and Pantego.

The wording of a proposed order granting permission for the project was filed with the commission late last month by representatives of the company, the state and the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association.

The document indicates that Invenergy has proved the need for the project and has “provided sufficient information to support the operational viability of the Facility.”

It also notes that the commission has received comments from the public pointing out “significant environmental concerns” about the project, but it stipulates that “these issues will be better addressed by agencies with sufficient expertise and regulatory in the areas of environmental and natural resource protection.”

It could be modified by the commission or approved as written.

Following meetings with Invenergy representatives last week, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners in March will consider a resolution of support for the project. Invenergy 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.

If the utilities panel grants permission for the project, the company will move ahead with its efforts to seek approval from various state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Aviation Administration and the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources for permits required before the project can be built, company officials have said.

The goal is to have the project operational by either late this year or early next year, according to Jack Godshall, business-development manager for Invenergy.

With delays in the other wind-energy projects planned for northeastern North Carolina, the project planned for Beaufort County could be the first of its kind in the state, if built according to that schedule.

But the project still faces opposition from some in the community, including Friends of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, which fears its proximity to the refuge could harm the tundra swan and other migratory waterfowl that over-winter in the refuge and forage for food in the area planned for the project.

If the commission approves the project, the group will “wait and watch and see what happens” with the various environmental permits, according to Doris Morris, the group’s communications officer.

“We’ll look at each issue and see where we could go with it,” she told the Daily News.

For its part, Invenergy will complete its studies of the swan and waterfowl in the area next month and will release its findings in a report filed with the utilities commission, Godshall said.

“We have to be compliant with federal law respecting migratory birds,” he said.

Godshall and April Montgomery, a local representative for Invenergy, met last week with area reporters and some members of the county Board of Commissioners to answer questions and gauge support for the project.

In small group meetings with Godshall and Montgomery, most of the commissioners appeared ready to support the project, seeing it as a matter between private landowners who have leased property for the turbines and a private company that wants to operate the project.

“Local government doesn’t have a dog in this fight,” said Commissioner Hood Richardson. “It’s your money. It’s private land.”

If built, the Pantego-based wind farm would be expected to be connected to Dominion Power’s substation near Pantego and 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.

It’s the proximity of eastern Beaufort County to the end of the PJM transmission lines and the area’s flat terrain and winds of sufficient speed to operate wind turbines that make the area attractive to Invenergy.