In a bout of déjà vu from last session, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown brought his unpopular wind energy ban back from the dead.
The 18-month moratorium on wind projects Brown snuck into an otherwise good 2017 solar energy bill expired at the end of 2018, and clean energy advocates breathed a cautious sigh of relief. But Brown and a few other Senate leaders seemed set on continuing their string of poor environmental choices. In March, Brown introduced Senate Bill 377, this time proposing a permanent ban on wind facilities across a map that included nearly the entire state’s coast and much of its inland territory.
The map purported to include areas which conflict with military operations. As in 2017, Brown continued to argue this ban was necessary to protect North Carolina’s economically vital military installations and to uphold national security, titling the bill with the Orwellian “Military Base Protection Act.” Bill proponents claimed wind turbines pose a significant “vertical obstruction” to pilot training, and could ultimately risk base shutdown.
Given the bill’s primary sponsors are all recipients of campaign funding from fossil fuel and utility interests, it is not hard to imagine they had ulterior motives for slowing renewable energy’s progress in our state. After all, their stated reason was repeatedly debunked by military leaders and other national security stakeholders, who strongly asserted the ban was an unnecessary measure. That’s because in 2011, the Department of Defense established a Siting Clearinghouse to determine how new construction could obstruct military operations. Both the Clearinghouse and the Federal Aviation Administration already review concerns with siting and obstruction, rendering this ban redundant. On top of that, the military has openly declared its support for renewables.
In the beginning of June, a Senate Finance Committee amendment sought to address public backlash by shrinking the moratorium from a permanent ban to three years. In committee, Sen. Jim Perry assured the public this period would be necessary to review and create guidelines for turbine interference with flight projects. Perry also noted the ultimate goal was to eliminate the moratorium altogether, and asked everyone to “take a leap of faith.” Despite testimony from the military and environmental communities that wind energy would only bolster our state’s economy and security, the amended bill passed the Senate.
In late June, the House Energy and Public Utilities Committee approved a committee substitute to SB 377 — this time, sans moratorium. Wind companies already have to seek local, state, and federal approval before instituting projects, and the revised bill now instructs state regulators to also seek information from military commanders before granting permit approval.
This is an improvement on the original bill, but still an unnecessary additional layer of bureaucracy. Enough House leaders seem to agree, for the bill has remained in the Rules Committee since June 25. But if the bill comes to the House floor, it is essential that legislators uphold North Carolinians’ interest in advancing clean energy.