01/20/14 — Deal is reached on wind farms

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Deal is reached on wind farms

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 20, 2014 1:46 PM

The company developing the Pantego Wind Energy Project in Beaufort County and the Department of Defense have reached an agreement aimed at reducing the project's effect on military training in eastern North Carolina.

The announcement comes at the same time that the Department of Defense is preparing to launch a Joint Land Use Study spurred by continued concerns that development of the massive wind turbine facilities would adversely affect the mission of the state's military bases, particularly that of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Wayne County commissioners Tuesday will consider adopting a resolution supporting that study. Tuesday's meeting will begin with an agenda briefing at 8 a.m. followed by the official meeting at 9 a.m. Both will be held in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

The fear has been that the turbines, which can rise as high as 500 feet, would interfere with the low-level flights paths that the base's F-15Es take to the Dare County Bombing Range.

The concern remains even though legislation signed into law in May created a uniform permitting process for wind energy facilities in the state.

Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment said that recent development events in the northeastern part of the state have identified "gaps" in land use planning in counties near the bombing range.

The study would be used as a comprehensive strategic plan including specific implementation actions to address incompatible civilian development that might impair a base's ability to a perform its mission.

Under the agreement, according to a Jan. 13 Department of Defense press release, wind turbines will be placed no closer than four nautical miles from the centerline of a major military flying training route in eastern North Carolina used extensively by Seymour Johnson's F-15Es and Navy and Marine Corps aircraft for low-level flight training and access to the Dare County Bombing Range.

"With this agreement, a careful balance was struck to capitalize on the potential of renewable energy in eastern North Carolina, while allowing the 4th Fighter Wing to continue its F-15E, low-level flying mission," said Col. Jeannie Leavitt, 4th Fighter Wing commander. "All F-15E formal aircrew training is conducted at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and operating areas such as the Dare County Bombing Range are a valuable commodity critical to military readiness.

"This agreement is paving the way for renewable wind energy development in this region."

The original wind energy project site plan would have affected access to the Dare County Bombing Range and low-level training on a critical portion of a training route.

"Military readiness is the Department's priority," said Frank DiGiovanni, director, Force Readiness and Training, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Readiness). "However, we also recognize that energy security is a component of national security. To this end, the Pantego agreement finds harmony between military readiness and renewable energy development.

"This groundbreaking agreement was the result of a lot work by all stakeholders, particularly the outstanding efforts of leadership from Seymour Johnson AFB, the state of North Carolina, and representatives from Beaufort and Wayne counties. This agreement is vital to sustaining the military's ability to conduct its readiness training in this part of North Carolina."

Officials with Invenergy, the company involved in the project, said project details, such as the number of turbines, the scope of the work and potential economic impact, are still being determined.

"We appreciate the time and effort by all involved, including representatives from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, and are pleased to have worked together toward this agreement," Invenergy officials said in a prepared statement. "We continue to meet with stakeholders and evaluate our development plans regarding the Pantego Wind project, with a specific timeline still to be determined."

The base and bombing range were nominated by the Air Force leadership for the study that includes military training routes and military operating areas.

Along with Wayne, the study area would encompass Washington, Bertie, Beaufort, Hyde, Dare and Tyrrell counties.