Three local legislators have expressed a commitment to thwart industrial wind developments that would threaten training missions at Cherry Point.
Meeting with the base advocate group Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow on Dec. 8, N.C. Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret and John R. Bell IV, R-Wayne expressed support for legislation that would tighten restrictions on commercial wind projects in eastern North Carolina.
“The problem is you’ve got counties with revenue coming in from the wind farms and they don’t have the love for the military like we do down here,” said McElraft. “So that’s a huge issue. So we’ve got to do something legislatively to protect the whole state and not necessarily county by county.”
House Bill 763, called the Military Operations Protection Act of 2016, passed the N.C. Senate but failed to pass in the N.C. House earlier this year. Proponents of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, plan to reintroduce a similar version of it in 2017.
Legislators in northeastern North Carolina, where the largest wind turbine project in the southeastern part of the country, the Amazon Wind Farm west of Elizabeth City, is nearing completion, did not support HB 763. With more than 100 turbines, the farm could produce enough power for 60,000 homes.
“Make no mistake, the opposition that is supporting these wind turbines and this industry overall is very well organized and very well-funded and within one week of Sen. Brown and myself talking about this bill, their lobbying core quadrupled and that’s just in Raleigh,” said Rep. Bell. “This group is already organized and they are already working and we need to be just as pro-active.”
Jamie Norment, of ACT, said 500-foot-tall wind turbines would seriously diminish the ability of pilots to train around Cherry Point at its associated ranges.
“It makes your major installations less attractive, and less sustainable,” said Norment. “If you can move to a part of the country where there are no wind turbines, theoretically why not move there? So it is a North Carolina issue a well as an effectiveness training issue.”
Frank Bottorff, a member of Act, is a former Marine Corps pilot and was at one time the commander of Cherry Point. Bottorff said there are a couple of levels of problems that come with wind turbines.
“The most dangerous thing is that it masks radar images or creates false radar images. So when everybody think that just because these towers are 500 feet tall you can just fly around and avoid them, and that’s true, except that military aircraft, even in see and avoid thing, have to avoid them by 1,000 feet above and a mile to the side, so if they are coming near your low level training routes, which you are going at 200 feet on you have basically lost the ability to train at low altitude,” said Bottorff, a former AV-8B Harrier jet pilot. “Now you go up above them and these fields of windmills frankly blank out radar for a 20 mile circle or more, so not only when you are flying in eastern North Carolina and you might be going on a route at 500 miles an hour anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 feet off the ground depending on the route structure. Other civilian aircraft, civilians, doctors, lawyers, flying to their houses on the coast, the radar people can’t keep those people away from military aircraft. There is no de-confliction. You have a complete safety problem.”
In addition, Bottorff said, there can be numerous military aircraft operating in the airspace at the same time and radar operators are challenged with keeping these airplanes at safe distances from one another.
“When you have a lot of military aircraft training in the same spot we have people on the ground trying to keep those people apart so that you don’t have inadvertent contact and that is sacrificed when you have large wind turbines in the area,” said Bottorff. “So there is a whole list of items, safety, training, effectiveness that all come in. You lose the ability to train for combat. That’s what people forget. It’s not about taking your aircraft and making sure you don’t hit a 500-foot windmill. Frankly every pilot in the world can do that, so the reality is that that does not mean that you can go out and safely operate and train for war, which is really why those aircraft are in eastern North Carolina.”
The Southeastern Wind Coalition, an advocate group supporting wind projects, said it is possible for wind projects and military operations to coexist. They point to the Department of Defense Clearinghouse process as the best method for mitigating impacts to military bases. The Coalition said that a blanket ban on wind turbines will deny rural communities access to a economic development.
“Many wind farms have adopted practices that effectively reduce impacts, including micro-siting radar upgrades, and giving the military the ability to turn off turbines at agreed upon times,” said Katherine Kollins, in a memo prepared in advance of the 2017 legislative session.
Rep. McElraft said her commitment to funding efforts to protect the military is unwavering.
“You know I have the Sierra Club coming to me complaining because we are putting so much into military buffers and not in other areas, and so we just ignore their complaints and go on and fund it the way Senator Brown wants us to fund it,” said McElraft.
Sen. Sanderson appeared equally committed and intent on using the Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House to pass pro-military legislation.
“I think that with the new administration coming in in the governor’s mansion there will be a lot of things that we are all on the same page on,” said Sanderson. “I’m just praying that military sustainability will be one of those things where we won’t have disagreement, and even if we do have disagreements, we both do have super majorities to pass the budget that we want to pass.”