RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina could permanently ban big wind-power projects from the most energy intensive parts of the state’s Atlantic coast, but a state senator said Wednesday the move is necessary to prevent hindering military training flights.
Legislation introduced by Republican Sen. Harry Brown would prohibit building, expanding or operating sky-scraping wind turbines within about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the coast. The bill would apply to the area that stretches from the Virginia border to south of the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base.
"It would have a major impact to the areas of North Carolina with potential for wind energy development," said Brent Summerville, who teaches about wind energy in Appalachian State University's sustainable technology program.
Brown said he's trying to keep high structures out of current or future flight paths around the state's major military bases, a Coast Guard helicopter installation, and the coastal bombing range where Air Force from a base in Goldsboro and Navy pilots from Virginia Beach, Virginia, practice missions day and night.
If there's a conflict between a nascent wind power industry and the tens of thousands of jobs tied to the military in Eastern North Carolina, "I think you do need to make choices," said Brown, whose district includes Camp Lejeune.
"If we lose any of those bases, it would be devastating, in my mind, to eastern North Carolina. If you look, we have agriculture and we have military, and we don't have much else," Brown said.
Though the legislation said operating a wind farm also would be prohibited, it's not intended to threaten the closure of one of the East Coast's first wind farms, which is spread across Perquimans and Pasquotank counties, Brown said. The operation of 104 turbines, each standing more than 30 stories tall, is one of the largest tax payers in the two impoverished counties.
Brown and other Republican politicians asked the incoming Trump administration in December 2016 to either kill or require major changes to the $400 million wind farm that powers data centers for Amazon.com Inc. They argued the then-nearly completed complex would interfere with a military radar installation that scans for aircraft and ships hundreds of miles out over the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean.
The Navy disagreed, saying it had extensively studied the risk of interference with its Relocatable Over the Horizon Radar system just across the state line in Chesapeake, Virginia, and found the project manageable.
The new legislation "would remove many of the areas in North Carolina where wind has the opportunity for the greatest economic benefits. Many of the most economically distressed counties in eastern North Carolina also have some of the best wind resources," said Adam Forrer of the Southeastern Wind Coalition.
Environmentalists noted Wednesday that the Pentagon has an office that works with energy companies to promote development while preventing risks to defense operations.
But the potential for future military base closings means it’s up to state leaders to minimize the possibility the Pentagon would close any of the half-dozen in North Carolina, Brown said.