Time for North Carolina to Support Wind Power

Guest Blog | January 26, 2016 | Energy Policy, Wind
Credit: Chrishna, Flickr Creative Commons

Wind turbine technology has advanced significantly in the past few years, enabling wind farms to sprout up in new areas, particularly in the Southeast. Taller turbines and longer blades are capable of capturing more wind, which results in harnessing more electricity and reducing costs. Even as new wind development promises sustainable economic development in rural counties, in some cases new wind farm proposals are being met with hostility and resistance. North Carolina is a recent example of new turbine technology creating opportunities and opposition, as anti-wind activists use confusion and misinformation to press for wind farm bans that are disguised as regulation.

In 2011, several new wind farms were proposed in northeastern North Carolina, amounting up to several hundred megawatts of wind power capacity potential. Private property owners exercising their private property rights and hosting wind turbines could expect about $6,000 per wind turbine via land-owner lease payments. Each project could result in hundreds of thousands of new county tax revenue, with little to no cost to the local communities.

Prior to the various wind farm announcements, county officials in northeastern North Carolina adopted reasonable wind turbine siting regulations that were created by the North Carolina wind working group, a diverse group of stakeholders from across regulatory, industry, legal, academic and environmental fields. But now, Perquimans County is entertaining proposals by anti-wind energy activists that, if implemented, would effectively kill wind farm development in their county and potentially have a chilling effect on the prospects for development in eastern North Carolina.

Anti-Wind Farm Activists Have a Secret Agenda: To Disguise Wind Bans as Regulation

The American wind industry has become widely popular with Republicans and Democrats alike — polling shows that 82% of North Carolinians support this clean, domestic source of renewable energy. In Kansas, where significant wind development has taken place, some 91% of voters believe that “Using renewable energy is the right thing to do for the future of our state and our country.”

Anti-wind farm activists know that if they head to a county commission meeting and demand to completely eliminate wind farm development, that their opinion would be in stark contrast to the vast majority of Americans. To conceal their disdain for renewable energy, anti-wind activists will propose regulation that, in effect, would prohibit wind energy. Their intention is to regulate wind energy right out of existence. Listed below are a few items on anti-wind activists’ lists of demands in North Carolina.

1) Setbacks

Perquimans County’s current wind energy ordinance requires that wind turbines be set back 2.5 times a turbine’s height away from occupied buildings or residences and wind turbines may not exceed 600 feet tall. Anti-wind energy activists in North Carolina have demanded that wind turbines be no closer than 5,280 feet (1 mile) or further than 17 football fields away. Anti-wind energy activists know that even if they “compromise” and succeed with a ½ mile setback, landowners would need more than 500 acres of land before hosting a wind turbine on their own private property. Alternatively, coal-fired power plants and highly toxic coal-ash ponds are frequently located closer than 1/4-1/2 mile away from residences. For example the Marshall coal-fired power plant near Lake Norman has a coal-ash pond less than 550 feet away from a home.

2) Decibel Limitations

Perquimans County’s current wind energy ordinance requires that wind turbines be no louder than 55 decibels as measured at any occupied building of a non-participating landowner. The Environmental Protection Agency developed guidelines regarding sound limits to protect public health and 55 decibels is recommended for outdoor sound levels. When anti-wind energy activists demanded a 35 decibel sound limit for wind turbines in neighboring Chowan County, the demand was soundly dismissed as “preposterous”. A 35 decibel sound limit, if applied evenly to all sound-causing activities, would ban other background sounds such as speech, refrigerators, dishwashers, crickets, birds, rainfall, cars, boats, aircrafts flying overhead, and even the wind itself. Even if anti-wind activists “compromise” at 45 decibels, background wind sound can exceed that limit – sound levels of winds at approximately 7 miles per hour are rated at about 36 decibels and wind speeds of 26 miles per hour can clock in at about 54 decibels.

3) Shadow Flicker Restrictions

Shadow flicker occurs when sunlight is blocked intermittently. Perquimans County’s current wind energy ordinance requires that wind turbines cause no more than 30 hours of shadow flicker in a year at any occupied building of a non-participating landowner. According to a peer-reviewed scientific journal study, a study of 60 scientific peer-reviewed articles, shadow flicker is “not likely to affect human health” and is regarded more as an annoyance. If you’ve ever driven down a tree-lined road in the afternoon, you’ve received a dose of shadow flicker as trees shade the roadway.

4) Decommissioning Mandates

Perquimans County’s current wind energy ordinance requires that if a wind turbine is inoperable for a continuous 12 months, it must be decommissioned within 12 months. Wind turbine decommissioning is required by the already-existing regulations.

5) Property Value Guarantees 

Multiple studies have shown that wind farms do not negatively affect property values. However, anti-wind activists make claims that property values are affected and frequently demand contractually-binding “property value guarantees”. If wind farms pose virtually no risk to property values, why are property value guarantees a problem? If you do a basic search, it’s fairly clear that wind energy are virtually the only industry targeted for property value guarantee demands. Given that property can be devalued for a number of reasons, wind farm companies could be held liable for property devaluation that is wholly unrelated to nearby wind farms. For example, if an industrial chicken operation is constructed, or the real estate market takes a hit, or unsultry neighbors move in, or even the homes’ physical appearance falls out of fashion, property values could suffer. Requiring new development to provide property value guarantees would set a bad precedent. If a resident or group of residents become opposed to new businesses, new construction, or even a neighbor’s homeowner renovation, requiring property value guarantees would have a chilling effect on local economies and would raise hostilities within the community.

Regulation or Discrimination?

Listed above are just a few examples of how anti-wind energy activists propose regulation that are effectively wind farm bans in disguise. Perquimans County, and several other counties in North Carolina, took the time to develop reasonable regulations that would not only protect land owners that are not hosting wind turbines on their property, but also protect the property rights of the land owners that want to host wind turbines.  If a county commission is unwilling to pass the exact same regulations for all energy industries or other forms of new development, an alternative agenda is at play, and communities will lose out on an opportunity to participate in the clean energy economy of the 21st century.

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