By Molly Moore
Though the breeze is still blowing in Tennessee and North Carolina, the air is relatively still when it comes to progress on wind energy. Both states passed moratoriums on new wind projects during their 2017 legislative sessions.
A North Carolina solar law passed this summer includes an amendment that prohibits the state Department of Environmental Quality from issuing permits for new or expanded wind facilities for 18 months. State Sen. Harry Brown (R-District 6) attempted to add a four-year wind moratorium, but legislators reached an 18-month compromise. The moratorium began retroactively on Jan. 1, 2017, and runs until Dec. 31, 2018.
Gov. Roy Cooper signed the bill in July but issued an executive order urging continued momentum for wind projects.
“This executive order directs DEQ to continue recruiting wind energy investments and to move forward with all of the behind the scenes work involved with bringing wind energy projects online, including reviewing permits and conducting pre-application review for prospective sites,” Cooper said in a press statement. “I want wind energy facilities to come online quickly when this moratorium expires so our economy and our environment can continue to benefit.”
In promoting the moratorium, Brown and numerous other GOP senators expressed concern that wind turbines could interfere with military flight paths and potentially cause bases to relocate away from eastern North Carolina.
But a 2013 state law already bans any wind developments that would “result in a detriment to continued military presence in the state.” And the U.S. Department of Defense is also required to certify that renewable energy projects won’t interfere with military flight training or other operations.
The moratorium halts development of two wind farms slated for Chowan and Perquimans counties, even though those sites were approved by the Department of Defense through a joint land use study in 2013.
“The wind energy moratorium provision slams on the brakes of much needed economic development in our most rural communities in eastern North Carolina,” reads a statement from Conservatives for Clean Energy, an organization based in North Carolina and Virginia.
In November, the legislature announced a contract with global firm AECOM to produce maps by May 2018 showing where wind turbines could negatively affect military operations.
According to Southeast Energy News, the process of creating these maps won’t be subject to open meetings laws, unlike most policy studies.
Sharp debate surrounding a 71-megawatt wind farm proposed for Cumberland County, Tenn., led the state legislature to pass a moratorium last spring halting work on large-scale wind developments in the state until July 2018.
Tennessee is one of four states without any statewide regulations on wind energy, according to State Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), who introduced the bill. The moratorium signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in May established a joint committee to study wind siting regulations and make recommendations to the relevant state Senate and House committees by Jan. 1, 2018.
The moratorium does not apply to counties and municipalities that have already established local siting regulations for wind facilities.
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee applauded the state law. “This will give Tennesseans the opportunity to evaluate whether we want our landscape littered with wind turbines that are over two times as tall as the skyboxes at the University of Tennessee football stadium and produce only a small amount of unreliable electricity,” he wrote in a statement emailed to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
In June, Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy announced that it was suspending its $100-million Crab Orchard Wind project slated for Cumberland County. According to a statement from Harry Snyder, the company’s development director, the decision was “based on current market conditions and the project’s fundamental qualities.”