Top Stories of 2012 – No. 7: Wind-farm project draws attention

Published 9:19 pm Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In November 2011, Invenergy, the Chicago-based parent company of Pantego Wind Energy LLC, sought approval from the N.C. Utilities Commission in Raleigh for a proposed project on 11,000 acres near Terra Ceia and Pantego.
The 80-megawatt wind farm could generate enough electricity to power 15,000 homes, and that power would be shared via a Pantego substation with 12 eastern states and the District of Columbia.
When the project became public, it drew much opposition based on the fact that the wind farm’s 49 turbines would be located close to the Pungo Unit of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and potentially harmful to the tundra swan and other migratory waterfowl that over-winter in the refuge and forage for food in the area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a Duke University ecology professor, representatives from the Southern Environmental Law Center, Friends of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club and many other concerned residents weighed in on the subject, saying that more study was needed.
Invenergy, in the meantime, was moving ahead with its plans. In early March, the N.C. Utilities
Commission granted a certificate of public convenience and necessity to Pantego Wind Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Invenergy, giving the go-ahead to seek approval from various government agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Aviation Administration and the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources among them. On March 12, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to support the company’s plans to build the wind farm.
In May, however, a wrench was thrown in the works when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that, according to its numbers, there would be significant damage to the population of at least one species should the turbines go up as scheduled — bald eagles.
A preliminary wildlife impact estimate based on five months of bird counts in Beaufort County found that the wind farm could injure or kill as many as 20 bald eagles a year. Conservative estimates are as low as four bald eagles killed a year. The estimate did not include the potential risk to thousands of migratory snowbirds that visit that part of the state every year.
“That’s a shocking number,” Kelly Fuller, wind campaign coordinator at the American Bird Conservancy in Washington, was quoted as saying at the time. “Even if we look at the low number, killing four bald eagles a year would be killing more than the current acknowledged eagle deaths of all U.S. wind farms combined for the whole history of the U.S. wind industry.”
It was enough to put the project on hold.
Invenergy announced in June that in light of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service numbers, additional studies on the impact to the area’s bird population would delay the project beyond the initial 2013 start date.
“Invenergy LLC has concluded that additional studies are needed to determine the impact of the Pantego Wind Farm project in Beaufort County on the region’s bird population,” a June 14 statement from the company read. “We are confident that a full, fair and factual study will demonstrate that the Pantego Wind Farm will protect and conserve the region’s wildlife, bird population and natural resources.
Meanwhile, a company spokesman said the delay does not mean Invenergy has abandoned the project.
“Invenergy is still committed to the Pantego site,” said Gary Pearce, project spokesman.
The Daily News is not aware of any further developments since June.