As the Long Session of the NC General Assembly came to an end, lawmakers pushed through HB 589, “Competitive Energy Solutions for NC.” The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Szoka (R-Fayetteville), went through several changes on its way to becoming a compromise piece of legislation that passed in the House and the Senate, and was sent to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
The bill has multiple sections addressing various parts of the renewable energy sector. However, one of the more controversial sections places an 18-month moratorium on the granting of permits for wind projects or wind facilities expansions in the state.
The bill states the purpose of this moratorium is to allow the General Assembly ample time to study the extent and scope of military operations in the state. Also, the study will consider the impact of future wind energy facilities and energy infrastructure on military operations, training, and readiness.
The bill states, “Neither the Department of Environmental Quality nor the Coastal Resources Commission shall issue a permit for a wind energy facility or wind energy facility expansion for the period beginning January 1, 2017, and ending on December 31, 2018.”
Originally, however, the bill was passed by the House without a moratorium on wind energy. In the Senate, it was changed via an amendment from Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow) adding a 4-year moratorium on new wind projects or expansions. Brown cited concerns that have been expressed to him by the military regarding the impact of wind turbines on military radar and flights.
The House did not concur with this change, and a conference committee worked out the eventual 18-month moratorium as a compromise.
Rep. Bob Steinburg (R-Edenton) said he is disappointed in the 18-month moratorium because “there is no need for this whatsoever.”
The Amazon wind farm is in Steinburg’s district. Steinburg said the developer worked hand in hand with the military representatives who voiced concerns about the placement of 45 turbines. “The plan originally called for 149 turbines, but the developer dropped 45 due to concerns shared by the military,” Steinburg said. “It is now fully operational with 104 turbines.”
Steinburg also said, “If I thought for one moment that any renewable project would impede our military in any way, I would not support it.”
There has been a growing divide between those who support renewable energy and those who oppose the government handouts it relies on to sustain itself, as well as the added cost to the consumer that comes from government mandating that energy providers purchase a percentage of electricity from renewable sources.
— Civitas Institute (@NCCivitas) June 27, 2017
Electricity rates in North Carolina have grown 2.5 times faster than the national average, according to regulatory policy expert Jon Sanders. In an op-ed published in the June 16 edition of the News & Observer, Sanders also wrote, “By 2014, the cost to ratepayers of the state’s so far relatively small REPS mandate had totaled $276 million.”
The NC Sustainable Energy Association issued a statement about the compromise bill and its moratorium on new wind projects, saying “We are very disappointed with this outcome and are determined to take immediate steps to lessen this blow to our growing and diverse clean energy economy.”
Steinburg said the House has been reluctant to put a damper on the economic engine of renewable energy, especially for rural communities in the state where much of the development is occurring. “Counties like Chowan could see as much as $1 million in revenue from these wind projects. For some of the smaller counties, that would be like winning the lottery.”
Cooper can either sign the bill into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature. As of this writing, he has not stated publicly his intentions regarding the bill. The final compromise measure, however, was supported by 13 Democrats in the House, making an override a good bet if Cooper vetoes the bill.