Panel OKs wind farm

Published 8:38 pm Thursday, March 8, 2012

A state utilities panel on Thursday approved plans by Invenergy to build an 80-megawatt wind farm in the eastern part of Beaufort County.

The N.C. Utilities Commission granted the company a certificate of public convenience and necessity that gives 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.

Invenergy, in a statement released to the Washington Daily News following the ruling, praised the utilities commission and pledged to work closely with the local community on the project.

Opponents of the project, however, expressed disappointment with the ruling and said they would pursue legal avenues to continue their fight against it.

The ruling came down in an 18-page order from a three-member panel of the commission that includes William T. Culpetter II, the presiding commissioner, and Susan W. Rabon and Lucy T. Allen.

While the commission has given Invenergy its permission to build the project, the company will be required to meet certain conditions regarding the protection of migrating waterfowl and bats in the area.

The ruling requires Invenergy to submit bird and bat protection and monitoring plans, prepared in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at least 45 days before beginning turbine construction, among other monitoring requirements.

It also requires Invenergy to notify the commission within 48 hours of the discovery of either five or more dead or injured migratory birds or bats or one or more dead or injured bald eagles or golden eagles.

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

It also notes the commission has received comments from the public pointing out “significant environmental concerns” about the project, but it stipulates that “issues pertaining to regulation of wildlife are more properly addressed by agencies with sufficient expertise and regulatory authority in the areas of environmental and natural resource protection.”

Invenergy, in its statement, called the ruling “an important first step, part of an extensive regulatory review that will include numerous local, state, and federal agencies.”

The company’s statement continues: “With an excellent wind resource and strong local support, the project’s location in Beaufort County is optimal for a successful wind farm. The 80 megawatt Pantego project will generate enough clean, renewable energy to power more than 15,000 North Carolina homes.

“Pantego would provide substantial, long-term economic benefits to our host community.  The project is expected to generate more than 100 jobs during construction; at least five permanent operations and maintenance jobs once the farm is operational; and more than $1 million annually in local tax revenue, lease payments to landowners, and staff salaries.

“Invenergy has a proud track record of long-term, successful relationships with our host communities across the United States. We look forward to working closely with the local community in Beaufort County and contributing to its economic development, while also providing a new supply of clean, homegrown energy in North Carolina.”

Invenergy officials have previously said that after the project cleared the utilities commission, the company would 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.

The goal is to start construction by the end of this year or early next year and begin operations at the site by the end of 2013, according to Jack Godshall, business-development manager for Invenergy.

Several environmental groups, including Friends of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, the Cypress Group of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, had opposed the project, saying its proximity to the refuge could harm the tundra swan and migratory waterfowl that over-winter in the refuge and forage for food in the area that would house the project.

While acknowledging the concerns of these groups, the utilities commission ruling said those concerns must be balanced with the need for renewable energy.

“Land-based wind energy is fast becoming one of the most reasonably priced renewable energy resources. The Commission must balance any potential negative effects of a particular wind energy project with the proven environmental benefits of reducing fossil fuel generation,” the ruling reads. “It is at times a delicate balance, one that might require some risk of change in the natural habitat of wildlife.”

“Therefore, to promote harmony between utilities, users and the environment, as well as to promote the development of renewable energy, the Commission has conditioned the (certificate of public convenience and necessity) in a manner to keep the Commission, other agencies, and the public fully informed on the efforts being taken to minimize any potential environmental impacts resulting from the Facility.”

Jennifer Alligood, a member of the Friends of Pocosin Lakes, said Thursday that she is “not surprised” by the ruling but was disappointed and concerned with the “lack of recourse” that members of the community have had regarding the project.

Alligood also said the organization would consult with its lawyers to see what action, if any, it may take.