Amazon/Avangrid Wind Project North Carolina

10 NC Legislators Send Letter to General John Kelly

In early January, a group of 10 NC legislators sent a letter to Gen. John Kelly, the Trump Administration’s nominee for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, expressing their concerns regarding the recently-built, 104-turbine wind project in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. The legislators asked for the project to be shut down or drastically altered due to their claims of interference with a nearby Department of Defense Relocatable Over the Horizon Radar (ROHTR) system.

The project was built by Avangrid Renewables (formerly Iberdrola), with the power being sold to Amazon for its data centers. If the Amazon Wind Farm cannot be shut down, the letter asks that the military negotiate a new contract with Amazon that gives the DoD tighter controls over the project. The ROTHR system is located in Chesapeake, VA – 1 of 3 such radar systems in the US & Puerto Rico – and has been in use since 1993 for tracking illegal or threatening activities.

Co-signers of the letter included: Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown (R-Onslow), House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Lenoir)

Plus Coastal Legislators: Sen. Norm Sanderson (R-Pamlico), Sen. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort; Amazon project located in his district), Reps. Chris Millis (R-Pender), Pat McElraft (R-Carteret) , George Cleveland (R-Onslow)

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Dickerson, who spent 16 years based at and deployed from Camp Lejeune and recently aligned with the John Locke Foundation and other wind opponents, also signed the letter.

U.S. Congressman Walter B. Jones Sends Letter to General John Kelly

U.S. Congressman Walter B. Jones also sent a letter to General Kelly, but it was shorter and more vague than the legislators’ letter; Jones has also sponsored H.R. 649 (with U.S. Reps. Chris Collins, R-New York, and Blake Farenthold, R-Texas) the “Protection of Military Airfields from Wind Turbine Encroachment Act”. The bill would deny federal wind production tax credits to any wind energy project that builds turbines within a 50-mile radius of a military installation. According to Jones’ office, a companion bill to the House bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Proactive, Positive Response by NC Rep. Bob Steinburg, Local Officials, Avangrid & Navy

Rep. Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan) represents the district that includes the Amazon wind project & has been a strong supporter of clean energy and the resulting economic benefits in his area. In less than 24 hours of the first media stories about the anti-wind letter, Rep. Steinburg, local elected officials and economic developers, and Avangrid staff were engaged vigorously by the Key States comms team to counter the letter.

EF Policy Consultants & NCSEA Lobbyists also engaged immediately in direct talks with Speaker Moore and Rep. Bell and other legislative allies (non-signers, ex Steinburg, McGrady, Szoka) to determine how this letter happened and potential next steps.

It was a very strong comms response led by G&S Business Communications and Julie Robinson in consultation with Rep. Steinburg, Avangrid, Southeastern Wind Coalition, Jennifer Behr/Chambers for Innovation & Clean Energy, and NCSEA. A few highlights:

Legislators Seek to Shut Down Wind Farm

First story: Coastal Review Online (posted online the evening of 01/12/17)

One coastal legislator not on the list of signatories was Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, whose district includes the wind farm project. Steinburg told CRO Wednesday that he would fight any move to shut down the wind farm unless he saw any solid evidence that claims in the letter were true.

Steinburg said he had raised his objections with House leaders over the letter. The push to shut down the wind farm, he said, is less about the military and more about a long-running fight against renewables in the General Assembly.

“I think there are some who are trying to set up the military as a straw man,” Steinburg said. “I have not talked with anyone from the military that has said they cannot coexist with this particular project.” Steinburg said the wind farm went through years of review at the state, federal and local levels.

Officials Slam Cook for Wind Project Shut Down Effort

Second Story: Elizabeth City Daily Advance, 1/14/17 (Sat paper)

Pasquotank County officials said Friday they will oppose state lawmakers' efforts to shut down Amazon Wind Farm US East. Several of them also accused state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, of acting against his district's interests by joining those efforts. One said Cook is “no longer my senator,” while another said the senator owes the region an apology for being part of the effort to shut down the wind project.

Pasquotank Board of Commissioners Chairman Cecil Perry said Friday that the wind energy project should proceed. He said he believes federal agencies “did their homework” on the project and that the wind farm would not be harmful to anyone. To the contrary, he said the project has had major economic benefits.

Elizabeth City Mayor Joe Peel also said he was opposed to shutting down the wind farm, adding that he doesn’t believe military concerns are driving the lawmakers' letter. He said he believes the city should respond to the letter.

Peel also said he feels Cook isn’t serving the district's best interests in opposing the project.

Wayne Harris, director of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission, said he also opposes the lawmakers’ effort. He disagreed the project would harm the Navy’s radar operations in Chesapeake. “I just think that's completely bogus,” he said.

Harris said the Navy and Avangrid had “intense negotiations” on whether the project could go forward, and they agreed the project could go forward in a modified, scaled-back form. Avangrid agreed to build 104 turbines instead of 150, he noted. He also said he was “stunned” that lawmakers would try to shut down the project, rendering a $400 million capital investment “worthless.”

Economic Boards Oppose Wind Farm Shutdown

Follow-Up Story: Daily Advance, Jan 19, 2017

Two economic development boards in Elizabeth City have adopted resolutions supporting the Amazon Wind Farm US East and opposing state legislative efforts to have the incoming Donald Trump administration shut down the nearly operational 104-turbine facility. The board of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Economic Development Commission adopted its resolution on Wednesday and the Elizabeth City Downtown Inc. board adopted its resolution on Thursday.

During Thursday’s ECDI meeting, Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Economic Development Commission Director Wayne Harris called the letter from the 10 legislators asking the Trump Administration to halt a completed project “unprecedented.” He urged board members to send a message that the local community doesn’t share the view expressed in the lawmakers’ letter. “I think it’s important for the community — every possible organization in the community — to let everyone know — not just the 10 legislators, but the governor and the congressional delegation, our two senators know — that this is an unprecedented attack on the community and on a private company’s capital investment — and that we’re opposed to it,” Harris said.

At the EDC meeting on Wednesday, Harris said the wind farm in fact has had a positive effect on his efforts to recruit business to Pasquotank’s Commerce Park, which is located near the interchange of U.S. Highway 17 Bypass and U.S. Highways 17 and 158. “We’ve had developers look at us because we have a wind farm,” he said. “Their developments have absolutely nothing to do with the wind farm, but they sort of came across (the fact there is a wind farm here) on the EC-PC EDC website.”

Navy Response: We approved Avangrid’s Project in 2014 and Maintain Support

On Friday (1/15/17; second day of stories), G&S and Julie worked with reporters at the Elizabeth City Daily Advance, WAVY-TV (Norfolk), Triangle Business Journal, AP, Charlotte Observer and others to interview Rep. Steinburg, Avangrid staff, local elected officials/economic developer and get a response from the Navy.

Avangrid staff also shared their October 2014 Agreement between Iberdrola (now Avangrid), DoD and Navy with reporters.

Navy: Wind Farm Given Green Light in 2014; Still OK Today

Daily Advance, Jan 15, 2017

The U.S. Navy did not contact state lawmakers about shutting down Amazon Wind Farm US East, nor does it have evidence the farm can't co-exist with its nearby radar facility, a Naval spokeswoman reported Friday.

In an email Friday, Naval Public Affairs Officer Katisha Draughn-Fraguada explained the ROTHR system “provides critical surveillance capability to support the United States Southern Command Counter Narco-Terrorism mission.” She also explained that the Navy works to arrive at “mutually-compatible scenarios” between ROTHR operations and wind farms – which can generate electromagnetic interference.

She wrote that the Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse works with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory to model the impacts of potential wind projects.

The lawmakers' letter cited a 2012 study from the MIT lab that found wind turbines within 28 miles of a ROTHR receiver can degrade its performance. It rejects a subsequent study that found the project could proceed, arguing its information is confidential and that “does not engender confidence.”

Draughn-Fraguada indicated the Navy stands by its approach to the project. “The MIT Lincoln Laboratory modeling of this wind farm determined the acceptable number of turbines and acceptable distance from the ROTHR receive site,” she wrote, also noting its modeling was based on the “specific turbine model proposed by the developer.” She continued the Navy agreed in November 2014 to let the developer build 104 turbines, reduced from 150, and then “conduct post-construction testing of the Avangrid wind farm this year to validate the compatibility modeling that was performed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory.”

Other details provided by the Navy to media, included:

  • Wind projects are evaluated by the Defense Department to determine if they are compatible with military missions. Separate evaluations of such projects near ROTHR systems are also coordinated with the Navy’s Mitigation Response Teams.
  • Electric power lines, wind turbines, solar power towers and electrical transmission towers are all potential hazards to military aircraft, military operations or ground-based surveillance radars and are all subject to compatibility evaluations. A clearinghouse website was created in 2010 to provide a single point of contact for agencies, local governments, developers and landowners.
  • Modeling by MIT predicts that the 104 turbines (Avangrid/Amazon project) will not create an unacceptable impact that exceeds the limits of the radar system to perform the operational mission. Field measurements taken at the completed wind farm will be done to validate the modeling and measure impacts.
  • Except for national security or defense purposes, which would require curtailment of operations, if field testing measurements at the wind farm exceed the allowable interference, the Navy and the developer must confer with experts to identify the cause and remediation strategies.
  • According to Raytheon, ROTHR is a high-frequency radar system that provides long-range detection and tracking of aircraft and ships. Each radar covers more than 2.5 million square miles.
  • The ROTHR system is capable of being relocated within a specific time period.
  • Other ROTHR facilities are in Texas and Puerto Rico. Wind energy projects similar to Amazon located or proposed near those systems have undergone the same type of compatibility evaluations and scientific modeling.

Highlights of Pro-Wind & Anti-Letter Responses

Jan 13, 2017 - News & Record editorial column - Rural Counties Want Amazon Wind Project

Beyond general antipathy toward clean energy, I don't get legislators' opposition to the Amazon project, especially after it's already been built and local people are counting on the revenue it will generate.

Jan 16, 2017 – WRAL-TV/Capital Broadcasting editorial - Legislative Leaders Need to End War on Renewables and Back Growing Clean Energy Economy

State Sen. Bill Cook, a Republican from Beaufort County, may have set the speed record for a politician stabbing his constituents in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties in the back.

The project is the model to provide an economic boost in rural areas – particularly ones where they lag behind the state employment and household income. Not only does the area benefit from the single project, but word of it has led other businesses to approach local economic development officials.

National AP story on 01/19/17 & 1/20/17 – Navy: Wind Farm Opposed by GOP Lawmakers Won’t Harm Radar – was picked up by more than 40 newspapers, TV & Radio stations across NC and nationally; also prompted several newspapers to print editorials in support of the project/against the letter several days later.

The Pentagon says it disagrees with Republicans in North Carolina who claim a $400 million clean energy project slated to power data centers for Amazon.com Inc. poses a threat to national security.

The Navy told The Associated Press this week it had extensively studied the potential for interference with its Relocatable Over the Horizon Radar, or ROHTR, system just across the state line in Chesapeake, Virginia.

"The Navy is committed to working with developers to ensure that renewable energy projects are compatible with our mission and operations," said Lt. Chika Onyekanne, a Navy spokesman. "While initial studies indicated a potential conflict between the Amazon wind project and the ROTHR, additional data collected since that time determined that the project is not likely to affect the mission."

Wind/Clean Energy Coalition Plans Wind Project Tour on 1/23 & 24; Speaker Moore & Rep. Bell Attend

Katharine Kollins w/ SEWC and a coalition of lobbyists working on wind issues and new permitting bill – including Betsy, Julie & Scott – had originally planned a tour of the Amazon wind project for legislators before the end of the year, which got postponed until January. Following the initial media coverage of the letter and Rep. Steinburg’s talks with the Speaker encouraging him to distance himself from it, it was agreed that Speaker Moore, Rep. John Bell and other key legislators would attend a tour & meet with local County Commissioners and economic developers prior to the tour.

Each of the County Commissioners expressed their own opinions of how the letter had caught them off guard, made their counties less attractive to wind developer investment, and how the letter did not state the true nature and magnitude of work and collaboration the project had done with the Navy over the past few years in order to ensure the project would not interfere with military operations.

Avangrid developer, Craig Poff, took 13 State Legislators and staff, as well as six County Commissioners for a tour of the project, including the chance to step inside a turbine tower. They were able to see thousands of acres being farmed in harmony with clean energy generation and the thousands of miles of new roads that Avangrid built throughout the project site, which are now being used by farmers (at no cost). The overall sentiments by legislators were very positive with comments recognizing the importance of this rural investment, energy independence, and the incredible scale of this impressive technology. Many attendees also posted their positive views and pictures on social media after the tour, including Speaker Moore.

Attending the tour on 1/23: Rep. Steinburg (R-Chowan) & Rep. Shelly Willingham (D-Edgecombe)

Attending the tour on 1/24: Rep. Steinburg (R-Chowan); Speaker Moore (R-Cleveland); Rep. John Bell (R-Jones); Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson); Rep. John Szoka (R-Cumberland; co-chair of Energy & Public Utilities Cmte); Rep. Sam Watford (R-Davidson; co-chair of Energy & Public Utilities Cmte), Rep. Chris Malone (R-Wake) and his LA Dennis Berwyn; Rep. Howard Hunter (D-Hertford); Rep. Holly Grange (R-New Hanover; Dep. Conference Leader); Mitch Gillespie, Speaker’s policy advisor; Joseph Kyzer, Speaker’s Communications Director; Angelicia Simmons, Sen. Smith-Ingram’s LA (D-Hertford); 6 County Commissioners

NC House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, (second from left) listens as Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Economic Development Commission Director Wayne Harris (second from right) makes a point at a meeting on the Amazon Wind Farm US East project, Tuesday. (Daily Advance)
Picture below courtesy of Katharine Kollins/SEWC.

Jan 25, 2017 - Daily Advance - Officials to Moore: Wind farm benefits area

Social Media Coverage of the Tour

Speaker Moore’s post tagged Reps. Steinburg, Bell, Szoka, Malone & Watford; they got additional likes & comments on their feeds

Rep. Steinburg has been very active on Facebook since the first articles ran on the wind letter, including responding to pro & anti-comments. The first post from the tour has generated over 200 comments.

Dennis Van Berwyn is Rep. Chris Malone’s legislative assistant & very active in GOP politics.

NC Speaker Tim Moore’s updated statement after the tour, 1/24/17:

House Speaker Tim Moore Tours Wind Turbines

Raleigh, N.C. – Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) joined fellow state House members Tuesday to tour the Amazon Wind Farm turbines that are operational in eastern North Carolina.

Speaker Moore issued a statement after touring the turbines:

“I appreciate the time and input of everyone who participated in the tour today. This was a valuable learning experience for me and my House colleagues to tour the first wind energy facility of its kind in North Carolina.

The Amazon Wind Farm is new to North Carolina and takes advantage of a valuable natural resource our state has to offer. If we work together, our state can successfully balance the concerns of our military service members interests with major new developments like the Amazon Wind Farm to ensure the long-term vitality of renewable energy resources and military installations on our coast.

Based on the information I have gathered today and over the past several weeks, it appears the initial concerns raised by the military are being addressed. I agree with the Navy that further research is critical to ensure this project does not create conflicts with our critical military operations on the coast.”

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All Media Coverage

Positive stories and G&S generated op-eds/LTEs are bolded

Avangrid/Amazon project fully operational:

Credits:

Created with images by Unsplash - "wind farm farm rural" • Ian D - "Whitelee Windfarm" • holidaypointau - "Tantanoola Wind Farm" • ChristopherPluta - "old newspaper newspaper the 1960s" • stevepb - "newspaper news media" • Bob Doran - "newspapers" • sonnydelrosario - "beach wind farm bangui" • tpsdave - "wind farm california desert" • juanalbertogarciarivera - "Albany Wind Farm, Western Australia" • chaunceydavis818 - "Wind Farm at Sunset"

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