Our view: Let Them Build Wind Turbines

A bill making its way through the state legislature would place a permanent ban on the “construction, operation or expansion” of all wind energy facilities — turbines — in all or parts of 39 eastern North Carolina counties. This is an unnecessary and counter-productive proposal that would be bad for the state’s environment and destructive to the state’s struggling eastern rural areas.

A previous temporary ban on commercial wind energy development, which turned some economic opportunities from North Carolina to other states, expired at the end of 2018. But State Bill 377, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, would make its provisions permanent. The bill is opposed by local environmental groups and, certainly, by North Carolina landowners who are currently benefitting from investments in wind energy, as well as other residents whose private property rights would be curtailed.

Brown has called his proposal a “compromise bill,” since it allows wind turbine development in Brunswick, New Hanover and a portion of Pender County. He claims a ban is necessary elsewhere to support military installations where, he says, pilot training or radar facilities might be endangered by large turbines.

“If we lose any of those (military) bases, it would be devastating, in my mind, to eastern North Carolina. If you look, we have agriculture and we have military, and we don’t have much else,” Brown said.

But supporting wind energy could change that.

The Amazon wind farm that began operating early in 2017 in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties is now the largest taxpayer in both counties. It has provided more than a dozen permanent jobs with an average salary of $80,000 and more than 60 landowners receive lease payments for housing the turbines. The project has invested more than $18 million in local businesses. That’s the kind of long-term development that could keep our rural communities alive.

The first commercial-scale wind farm in North Carolina, it uses 104 turbines to produced enough energy to power about 61,000 homes each year.

And, anyway, the military says, “No problem.”

Brown tried to stop the Amazon wind farm using the same argument. But the military, which was very involved in the approval process, disagreed and said the wind farm didn’t interfere with its operations.

And North Carolina’s military bases are already protected from potential harmful impacts from wind energy development by a U.S. Department of Defense vetting process. Those who oppose redundant red tape should think that’s sufficient.

And then there’s our pristine shoreline. Wind turbines present much less risk than the seismic blasting and oil drilling offshore that some are encouraging. Offshore oil drilling always carries the potential of spills that can damage wildlife, shorelines and water for decades.

Whereas wind spills …

Despite ridiculous claims from some quarters, there’s no evidence that wind turbines cause cancer. There’s also no real problem with windless days, since mankind invented, some time ago, devices called “batteries” that can hold electrical charges.

Wind turbines aren’t a silver bullet to solve all economic woes. But our rural communities across eastern North Carolina, which have been depressed by shifting economic winds and devastated by extreme weather events, could benefit significantly from the investments of wind energy industries. And we needn’t risk any military resources to do so. Brown’s bill should be voted down.