Local opposition is knocking the wind out of efforts to promote renewable energy, but whether coastal ordinances that halt or tightly regulate electricity-generating windmills have them down for the count remains to be seen. The latest setback came in March, when Carteret County imposed a nine-month moratorium. In January, Currituck County started restricting where they can be built.
“We’re faced with something we know little about,” says Doug Harris, chairman of the Carteret County commissioners. “We’re looking at something that, from sea level to the tip of the blade, could be 470 to 490 feet tall. That’s taller than the Wachovia Building in Raleigh and certainly taller than our lighthouse at Cape Lookout.”
Carteret ordered the moratorium after Raleigh developers proposed building three large wind turbines east of Morehead City that could generate more than 4 megawatts of power, which they would sell to Raleigh-based Progress Energy. The Currituck ordinance requires utility-size windmills to be on at least 25 acres and 1½ times their height from property lines.
Carteret commissioners want time to study windmills before a new state law triggers a building boom. It requires utilities to obtain 12.5% of their power from renewable sources and greater efficiency by 2020. “We’re just concerned about the fall zone and other public safety and health issues,” Harris says, adding that the moratorium is not “a vote against wind power as such.” Commissioners expect county planners to offer proposed guidelines by this winter.
What seems like clean, cheap power is causing division even among environmentalists. Steve Kalland, director of the North Carolina Solar Power Center at N.C. State University in Raleigh, says some contend windmills endanger birds and other wildlife and create visual and noise pollution. “Most recognize that wind energy is better overall for the environment than other options,” he says.
However, opposition grows when communities discover the size of wind turbines, says Daren Bakst, an analyst for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh. “You’re talking about structures as tall as 49- or 50-story buildings.” Last year, Ashe County banned large turbines, blocking a plan by a local farmer to build a mountaintop wind farm. Nearby Blowing Rock has banned all windmills.
Building a container terminal is, in a way, like buying a car: The extras can really add up. The State Ports Authority says one proposed in Brunswick County would cost $1.7 billion, up from the original estimate of about $1 billion. Roads, rail links and other improvements will add $500 million to the tab, spokeswoman Karen Fox says. The payoff? The N.C. International Port, near Southport, would create 16,500 jobs, and private development would generate $1.1 billion a year in local and state taxes by 2030. The first phase would open in 2017. Revenue from operations, federal grants and state money would pay for the port. More foreign trade and crowding at East Coast ports make the terminal necessary, the authority says.