Original Blogpost (7/13): In the mountains of North Carolina, local government cries for wind energy projects are falling on deaf ears of those elected to represent them. Mountain Senators Joe Sam Queen, Martin Nesbitt, and John Snow are attempting to completely override pro-wind actions taken by the local governments of Ashe County and Watauga County, and undermine the current efforts of Mitchell County to harness utility scale wind power and Madison County’s work to adopt a local ordinance for all scales of wind power.
Contrast this recent anti-renewable and anti-county-rights effort of WNC Senators with the passing of the Southeast’s first Renewable and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (NC REPS) in 2007 intended to grow the state’s investment in clean energy with the insertion of language to outlaw utility-scale wind development completely in western North Carolina – one of the region and state’s, most abundant cost-effective energy resources. If this bill is passed with the language as-is, it could very likely initiate the unraveling of the NC REPS as utilities will have limited options of responsibly sited renewable energy projects at competitive costs.
On Tuesday July 14th the Senate Committee on Finance is expected to review language introduced into Senate Bill 1068to permit wind energy facilities in the mountains of North Carolina. While the original bill gave the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) the authority to permit wind energy projects in the mountains, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources had to strip out all associated language because the same trio of Senators mentioned above had attempted to completely BAN all wind energy systems in the NC mountains. Due to pressure from over 1,000 citizens who learned about this behind closed doors decision, the language was pulled off the table and delayed for a week.
SACE has staff working across multiple states in our region on wind energy issues and it is hard for us to grasp why these three NC Senators are not only ignoring their constituents who have made it clear they believe wind energy will have a positive impact on their local community, but also the language and advice of the Wind Energy Technical Advisory Group (TAG). Members of TAG have worked diligently for nearly a year to understand how to responsibly site utility-scale wind turbines in both the coast and the mountains of North Carolina. In fact, it was this group who wrote the original language of Senate Bill 1068 and H809.
The challenge that TAG faced was to balance wind energy development in areas that are also home to two of North Carolinas most famous treasures; coastal waters and pristine mountains. There is an obvious need to strike a balance. We risk losing much of our coastline if sea levels continue to rise, and the spruce fir habitat high in the NC mountains is already experiencing a severe decline due to rising mountain temperatures. We need to find a fresh, new way to produce energy, and wind energy is one of the most abundant, cost-effective solutions for the clean energy future.
As with all energy sources, wind energy has its impact on its surrounding environment. While the impacts from a wind turbine are significantly less than the permanent impacts of coal plants (from mining of the coal, burning the coal, and storing the coal ash), or the impacts on land and water from nuclear plants, we believe that wind turbines still must be properly sited to ensure that any impacts on birds, bats, and endangered species are adequately managed. Senate Bill 1068 and House Bill 809 as originally written, ensures enactment of responsible guidelines to permit wind energy projects along the coast and in the mountains.
Specifically in the mountains of NC, wind energy projects must also be sighted so viewsheds of sensitive, treasured lands, such as state parks, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park are not compromised. Growing up in Madison County, NC, I have a deep appreciation for the beauty that is offered in this area, and feel that WNC is blessed with an abundance of outdoor beauty. However, I am also aware that a portion of WNC is privately owned, and over the past 10 years an influx of second home buyers have flooded WNC, building vacation homes high atop ridges, scarring many beautiful viewsheds.
To me, Senate Bill 1068 and House Bill 809 are a very responsible way to ensure that wind energy projects are both accepted at a local level, and sited using guidelines that balance the sensitive nature of viewsheds, wildlife impacts, and habitat impacts in WNC. I believe folks often forget that we are not talking about a “wind vs. nothing” scenario. If we do not use wind energy as a renewable energy resource, we lose a tremendous resource in the state of North Carolina, and we continue to rely on traditional forms of dirty, polluting energy.
The state of NC needs to clarify its permitting guidelines for wind energy projects quickly as the first milestones of the NC REPS are quickly coming up. Without wind energy in both the coasts and the mountains, NC may be backing its utilities into a corner when it comes to providing cost-competitive electricity to its customers under the NC REPS. Please join us in calling for the original language of Senate Bill 1068 and House Bill 809 to ensure that NC stays on track with a serious commitment to encouraging responsible renewable development and continues to set a precedent for the Southeast, helping to revolutionize our nation.
This blog post was written by Brandon Blevins and edited by Ulla Reeves.