Board backs wind farm

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Opponents call for more controls on wind-energy projects

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to support plans by Invenergy to build an 80-megawatt wind farm in the eastern part of Beaufort County.

The commissioners adopted a resolution supporting the project and voted to signal that support to Gov. Bev Perdue, members of the N.C. Utilities Commission and N.C. General Assembly members who represent Beaufort County.

The resolution reads in part: “Whereas, Pantego Wind Energy has been working on this project in Beaufort County for the past two years and has been open about its plans, responsive to concerns, and engaged in the community; whereas, Pantego Wind Energy has committed to building a responsible project in accordance with all federal, state and local laws; therefore, be it resolved, that the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners do hereby resolve that they are in support of the project which will bring new wealth and employment opportunities and create a new source of clean, homegrown energy in Beaufort County.”

Meanwhile, one state environmental group believes the project shows the need for a statewide permitting process for wind-energy projects that ensure their effects on wildlife will be considered.

“The issues surrounding the Pantego project highlight that it is time for the state to adopt a permitting program for both onshore and offshore wind projects that will provide regulatory certainty for wind developers and ensures that wildlife impact concerns are adequately addressed,” said Molly Diggins, state director of the N.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Last week, the utilities panel granted a certificate of public convenience and necessity to Pantego Wind Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Invenergy, for the project, planned for 11,000 acres near Terra Ceia and Pantego.

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

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 Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, have 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 planned for the project.

Diggins said the Sierra Club “will continue to closely monitor this project,” adding that given its proximity to the refuge, additional research on the project’s influence on wildlife “should be completed before the project moves forward.”

Jennifer Alligood, a member of the Friends of Pocosin Lakes, said she is “not surprised” by the ruling but is disappointed with it 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 can take.

A spokesman for the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, which also opposed the plan, said that organization would follow the permitting process.