Bill aims to protect military bases from encroachment

Cherry Point stands to benefit from new legislation that could regulate the placement of wind turbines in military training areas.

House Bill 763, the Military Operations Protection Act of 2016, which would impact where wind turbines and other tall structures are located around military bases, passed the N.C. Senate last week and is now in committee in the N.C. House.

The bill would modify the permitting process for construction of tall buildings and structures and give a new entity, the N.C. Sentinel Land Committee, oversight and responsibility for consideration and review of plans to erect such structures near military facilities like Cherry Point.

“I thinhk this will be a very good thing for Cherry Point,” said N.C. Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, who voted for the bill. “I’m just glad we’re being proactive rather than reactive.”

Supporters of Cherry Point and the military applaud the legislation that they say protects a multi-billion dollar economic impact to the state. Proponents of wind energy tout that industry’s own economic benefit and impact on the environment, while saying military and environmental interests can coexist.

Jamie Norment, who represents the Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow lobby group, said the law would prevent wind turbines from encroaching on the base or military training areas.

“... Obviously that will have a tremendous positive impact on the future of Cherry Point because it provides some stability and predictability when it comes to siting wind turbines,” he said. “ACT was involved in supporting the legislation that created the statewide permitting process for wind turbines, and an important part of that permitting process was encroachment on the military. I think as long as we have military input into the process or a statewide law that effectively stops wind turbines from being put in military training areas, that is a good thing to Cherry Point.”

Norment said the height of the wind turbines creates problems for military training.

“If you have a wind turbine that’s 500 or 600 feet tall, that’s as tall or taller than any buildings in Raleigh or Charlotte, and the fact is you can’t fly helicopters and jets for training military pilots and crews safely with those kinds of structures,” he said. “The problem is that the training is often conducted in areas that are not densely populated and wind turbines want to go in those same places. It is a serious problem for training purposes.”

In addition, windmills can create false radar returns that impact aircraft, Norment said.

“Wind turbines also interfere with radar and can create serious problems for air traffic control and of course air traffic control out of Cherry Point is a very important part of their mission, so you wouldn’t want to do anything to make as accident prone area in the training sense and you certainly wouldn’t want to do anything with air traffic control,” said Norment.

Havelock Mayor Will Lewis said the legislation would help prevent encroachment on Cherry Point, and thus protect the base’s future from any possible realignment and closure process.

“I think this is a good step for the state to be able to restrict the permitting process,” Lewis said. “We’ve dealt with the wind turbine situation just east of us in Carteret County and the way that it would affect Cherry Point. This just gives us another tool, so to speak, to make sure that it’s cleared like it should be and not causing harm to Cherry Point.”

Two years ago, a proposal to create a wind turbine farm near Newport prompted that city and Carteret County to create guidelines on tall structures that could be in the flight path to Cherry Point.

“One of the biggest things we have to be worried about here is encroachment, and tall structures very clearly affect our ability to train here at Cherry Point and we want to protect that at all costs,” said Lewis.

A large scale project, Amazon Wind Farm US East, is currently under construction in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties where 104 wind turbines are being erected on 34 acres of land.

Havelock residents may have noticed large pieces of the turbines on flatbad trucks rolling through the city as they are transported from the State Port at Morehead City to the project in the northeast of the state.

According to Stephen Kalland, executive director of the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, the proposed regulatory bill would not have an effect on the Amazon project, which is grandfathered in. But the bill would affect two other proposed wind farms, the Apex Timbermill Wind in Chowan and Pasquotank counties and the Res Americas project in rural Tyrrell County.

“The impression that I have in conversations that I have had with the folks in the wind industry is that this would pretty much be the end of those projects,” said Kalland. “The reality is, if you look at the requirements that are in the bill as it is currently proposed, it would pretty much remove the economic rationale for doing the wind projects.”

Katharine Kollins, of the Southeastern Wind Coalition, said wind farms have the potential to be a $750 million industry in eastern North Carolina.

Kollins and Kalland say that the military and the wind turbine industry can both exist in the state.

“We’ve seen instances where the wind developers have worked very closely with a lot of the military installations in the state to come up with solutions that have mutually beneficial outcomes,” said Kollins. “They offer economic development within the county and also allow the military to continue to perform their operations. There are all kinds of instances of various tall structures co-existing with the military. It’s something that they deal with everywhere.”

If the bill passes, it would be a setback for the wind industry, Kollins said

“This is an industry that right now has the opportunity to bring three quarters of a billion dollars in investment to rural counties in eastern North Carolina and that’s just with the three projects that have been proposed, and so I think it would be disruptive to the industry to pass something like this and it is also a signal to the industry that North Carolina potentially isn’t as friendly a place to build as other states have been,” said Kollins.

According to Kalland, the proposed bill would not affect windfarms offshore.

“There is significant technical potential to do wind offshore of the state of North Carolina,” said Kalland. “If you took out all of the other types of land and/or water concerns and just looked at the amount of wind that was out there and where it was based, North Carolina has more wind technical potential offshore than most of the rest of the eastern seaboard combined, so we do have a vast resource.”

Lewis said he is not against wind turbines as a source for energy, just any proposed around Cherry Point’s flight paths.

“If it is truly a more efficient way to generate electricity, I’m not against it, but I am against it around our base in a way that would keep our Marines from being able to train, and for that matter, all the branches that come here and train at BT-9 and BT-11 and Atlantic Field,” said Lewis. “I don’t know that there is a way that they can coexist when you’re dealing with the kinds of radars and flight paths and low level flight that we have to do right here in our area. It doesn’t mean that they can’t coexist somewhere else in the state but around here, there is no place where we could coexist and not dramatically affect the way that we do business.”