UPDATE: NC Senate Refers Wind Energy Ban Back to Committee

Guest Blog | July 15, 2009 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

Updated July 17th, 2009: A welcome victory on the Senate floor occurred on Wednesday when Senator Goss submitted an amendment that would reinstate language into SB 1068 allowing for utility-scale wind turbines to be constructed as allowed by counties.  This is in response to several counties and towns adopting resolutions in support of wind energy.  The amendment was heavily debated before being removed from the floor and referred back to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources where a subcommittee of mountain Senators, including (to our understanding) Goss, Snow, Nesbitt, and Queen will meet with Senator Albertson to hammer out the details of the mountain piece.

We continue to urge you to call your Senators and ask that they support the original language of the bill allowing for responsibly sited utility scale wind energy in the mountains of North Carolina.

We at SACE want to be quick to point out that just because a county chooses to allow a utility-scale wind project, it doesn’t mean that that county is exempt from the due diligence process set up through the rest of the bill.  A successful project would still have to demonstrate that the project would not significantly impact environmental, ecological, and aesthetic factors which are outlined in the bill and can be found in detail on our Take Action page.

We have, and will continue, to support proper due diligence studies of wind energy project impacts.  Our experience with the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Environmental Assessment process of wind projects in 2003 in Oliver Springs, TN and in Mountain City, TN have helped SACE gain an expertise in the impacts of wind energy project and responsible mitigation tactics.  To keep up to date with the latest information about wildlife impacts and collaboration between the wind industry and environmental groups on mitigating these impacts , please visit the National Wind Coordinating Committee.  For bats in particular, visit the Bat and Wind Energy Collaborative.

Update July 15, 2009: The North Carolina Senate Committee on Finance voted to ban wind energy projects that are taller than 100 feet in height, taking a giant step backwards in the state’s commitment to renewable energy.  No other state, in the entire United States, has ever unequivocally banned such a large area of wind energy.  A utility in western North Carolina has to be wondering what the General Assembly wants them to do?  Two years ago it is “build more renewable energy” and now it is “can’t build here.”

There were many half-truths shared during the committee meeting, several coming from Sen. Martin Nesbitt (who ironically supported the NC REPS).  Particularly he tried to paint himself as a champion for creating a “balanced” bill and reaching a “compromise” between protecting treasured viewsheds and installing wind energy projects.  The truth is the original language ALREADY protected public viewsheds and environment while allowing wind energy projects on locally owned, private lands, to the extent governed by a local government.  See letter from environmental groups to Senators opposing language.

This irresponsible provision will be on the Senate floor today (7/15) and an amendment is expected to be submitted by Sen. Steve Goss to restore the original language.  Sen. Steve Goss, a co-sponsor of the bill, ironically was not even made aware that changes were being made to the bill.  Senator Goss represents Ashe and Watagua County, two of the counties in Western North Carolina who have actually dealt with the conversation of wind energy project, and adopted local guidelines to govern the development of wind.  The bill will undermine their already established local jurisdiction, eliminating potential local economic benefits, jobs, and renewable energy options for these rural counties.   In fact, several counties are adopting resolutions against the bill as written.  Please Take Action today on this critical issue

As for “reducing the visual impact from wind turbines,” it is worth noting that 1 single 1.5 MW turbine is equal to 500 3kW wind turbines.  An ASU study identified approximately 34 total sites where wind projects could be installed (project size ranging from 11 MW to 47 MW – or 7-31 commercial scale turbines) representing over 800 MW of wind energy projects that are outside of public lands, near existing roads and existing transmission.

From here, the bill will go to various House committees, and we will update our readers soon as to where exactly the bill will go, and who we need you to contact.  Recently, several news articles were published in the mountains of North Carolina opposing the ban, and supporting wind energy projects.  It is also worth pointing out that wind energy in the North Carolina mountains represents approximately 20% of the electricity needed to meet the NC REPS requirements, so while mountain Senators voted to support Senate Bill 3, the question becomes, what do you expect your utilities to build now?

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