Desert Wind

 

This page has information about a wind energy development that is scheduled to straddle Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties (in Northeastern North Carolina). If you have questions about any of this, or have other material that should be included, or find any errors here, or would like to be on our email list, please email John Droz.

Make sure to look at the rest of this WiseEnergy.org website (see menus above), as there are several hundred studies and reports about the negative economic, environmental and technical consequences of industrial wind energy. Several videos worth watching are here.

Make sure to also look at our page of some North Carolina laws, proposed legislation, pertinent agencies, etc. as many of these directly apply to this development. To keep current with what’s going on with this project, please periodically check back here for updates. More recent significant additions or modifications will be indicated in green.

Quickie overview: several years ago a Spanish developer (Iberdrola) proposed an industrial wind energy development called Desert Wind. (Yes, this is the same company that tops the list of US “corporate welfare hogs.”)

Desert Wind has been marketed as a “300 MW project” which means that it may consist of 150± or so industrial turbines, up to 600± foot tall — which would be the tallest turbines in the US. The developer is leasing almost all of the land from private landowners, on a 20,000± acre somewhat wooded tract. [Here is a map overview. Here is a pictorial view (larger color file).]

Our position is that alternative energy sources should be encouraged — but none should be permitted on the public grid until a scientific assessment proves that they are a NET societal benefitNo such scientific assessment exists for wind energy!  In fact the evidence from studies done by independent experts conclude that wind energy is a net economics and environmental loser.  See below (and read through other parts of this website, including EnergyPresentation.Info) for more details.

The objectives of our elected representatives should be: 1) to encourage development that is a net-benefit to the community, while 2) protecting citizens, the environment, local economies, and military bases from industrialization. The bottom line is that protecting the health, safety and welfare of the community must be the top priority — not promoting the economic interests of some out-of-state investor.

A NC law (H484) was passed in 2013, which set up the first statewide wind energy permitting process. The NC DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) is the lead agency, and Desert Wind has not gone through this approval process. As explained on our NC Wind Energy Information page, H484 is a very weak law, that provides only minimal protections. Even so, we were hopeful that state authorities (DEQ) would require adherence to H484, as that would be a step-up from essentially nothing. However, that has not turned out to be the case.

Due to the inadequacy of state and federal regulations, NC communities are left on their own to deal with industrial wind energy. Both Pasquotank County and Perquimans County had the foresight to pass similar wind ordinances in 2009, but both need major updating. As a point of reference, Carteret County (NC) had a major wind project proposed there in 2013. After several public meetings, and considerable research, the Carteret County Commissioners unanimously passed a protections-oriented Tall Structures Ordinance in early 2014. Pasquotank County and Perquimans County should have followed Carteret County’s example, instead of being distracted by the inadequate, unguaranteed financial “incentives.” Unfortunately, that also has not been the case (see below).

Note: How huge is 600 feet?

 

Special Event  —

Screen shot 2014-11-08 at 7.53.45 AMOn February 10, 2015, local citizens sponsored a free wind energy education get-together in Elizabeth City. The award winning, feature-length movie, Windfall, was shown. This movie was a Grand Prize Winner at the New York City Independent Film festival. It also received favorible reviews from renowned movie critic Roger Ebert, the New York Times (a “Critics Pick”), and the Wall Street Journal — among many others. [For those who were unable to make that meeting, the film is available on Netflix.]

Following the film, there was a Q&A, hosted by environmentalist and energy expert John Droz. John is an independent physicist who lives in Morehead City, who has donated his time and expertise for free. He led the successful education campaign in Carteret County for the wind project recently proposed there (mostly on Weyerhaeuser land). In the last several years the Pasquotank/Perquimans communities have essentially only heard the sales pitches of the developer. This meeting was intended to start the process of local citizens and their representatives seeing this technical matter in a more objective, comprehensive light. Based on the overwhelming positive response from the many attendees, that objective was met.

 

Economic Realities  —

Wind promoters usually present these projects as a “found money opportunity.” However, the typical reality is that the developer makes tens of millions in profit, while the local community has a net economic loss.high_cost_low_benefit

In other words, these are usually all about making a killing (at the expense of taxpayers, ratepayers, and the environment), as the wind energy business is one of the most lucrative investments in the country. Wind profiteers make exceptional returns due to things like generous federal subsidies, state mandates, and extremely preferential treatment once they are on the electrical grid. The industry goes to great lengths to keep their profits a proprietary number, as they know their bargaining position would be seriously undermined if such information was made public — however, insiders have indicated that (on other wind projects) they expect to make an annual guaranteed net profit of up to 25%!  If that holds true on this project, that works out to $75± million per year to the developer!

The only way the developer can make these huge profits on the backs of citizens, is to hope that:

a) they can cheaply buy off the community (e.g. with lightweight regulations, reduced property taxes [a PILOT agreement], unguaranteed claims of a few jobs, etc.),

b) the community won’t pay attention to the whole economics picture (below), and

c) the community won’t notice that there are zero net societal benefits for such a project.

 

What About Farmers and Hunters?

This project has been marketed as a boon for some local farmers. Making the decision about signing a lease to host industrial wind turbines often sounds like a no-brainer. Farmers will be paid $5000+ per year per turbine for doing almost nothing, right?

Wrong. There are extraordinary implications to signing these leases, which have been called some of the most restrictive, one-sided contracts in the country.

For starters CAREFULLY read through this overview of the situation. We’ve also put together a comprehensive list of over forty legal and financial concerns that any potential leaseholder should thoroughly consider.

The Community will also lose income from sportsmen, as industrial wind development is incompatible with hunting.

 

What Are Some Other Pieces of the Economics Picture?

To begin with, read what the NC Department of Commerce wrote about the Desert Wind project:Pogo

Nearly all of the upfront investment will be with firms located outside NC” and “The employment impacts for a project with this much initial investment is small.

Read studies about how industrial turbines decrease Tourism. A conservative (4% reduction) estimate of this effect is that Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties will lose $2.6± million of local tourism revenue a year! [Note where a 2016 NC study concluded that as many as 80% of tourists would not return to an area with such a wind project. That would make the annual loss MUCH higher!]

Read this study by four of the world’s leading bat experts (all PhDs) about the substantial economic costs of turbine related bat deaths.

These independent experts then calculated the cost of turbine bat deaths for each NC county. The mid-range projected agricultural loss for Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties due to industrial wind development is $10.5± million annually!

Adding those two figures up, and then crediting the counties with a generous combined $2.1 million/year of property tax  and lease income:

There is a net annual loss of $11± million! 

If this is a twenty year project that means there will be a total net loss of $220± million!

 

And there are even MORE local economic costs!

Read this collection of articles about why industrial wind development will have a negative effect on nearby residential property values. (This is why a Property Value Guarantee is necessary.)
money-down-the-drain

Plus there is the cost to local and state consumers and businesses due to the higher cost of wind energy electricity.

Plus there is the cost due to the adverse health effects directly caused by industrial turbines.

Plus there is the cost due to the health consequences caused by a proliferation of insects (due to many bats being killed).

Plus there is the “shocking environmental cost” of wind energy.

The referenced studies are simply examples. Please see the Menus above for many more studies. It also may be relevant that citizens near another US wind project have sued the developer for “creating a nuisance that will cause unreasonable inconvenience, interference, annoyance, adverse health effects, and loss of use and value of each Plaintiff’s property.”

 

The Military Impact —

North Carolina has a long history of being a military friendly state. In addition to us doing more than our share to protect the country, economically this means tens of Billions of dollars to the NC economy.

Many important bases are located on (or operate in) the NC coastal region. ROTHER_GraphicDue to wind speeds (and the Ridge law) ALL of the wind development that will happen in NC, will also be in these same coastal regions — which sets up some major conflicts. As an example, the proposed Mill Pond project was a direct threat to the operation of Cherry Point MCAS in Havelock. (This was because the wind project was located on its runway approach, and that it would degrade the base’s radar performance.) To get a better grasp of the problem here, read some sample reports and articles about how turbines impact radar.

Another important military operation that could be severely impacted by the Desert Wind project, is the Navy ROTHR facility just north of Elizabeth City, NC. The main mission of this specialized radar facility is to keep track of what goes on in the Gulf of Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. See this letter the County received from the military, which spells out the extraordinary importance of that ROTHR facility. (The ROTHR facility monitors illegal drug traffic, terrorist activity, actions by unfriendly nations, hurricanes, climate change, etc.)

Once we have a clear understanding of how very large rotating structures affect radar, it will be obvious that relatively nearby 500+ foot turbines in the ROTHR view field, will degrade the performance of such a facility — which is the conclusion of this official government report. It says that any industrial wind project closer than 28 miles to a ROTHR receiver could seriously degrade its operational performance. (That was also the conclusion of this official Army Corps of Engineers report.) Note: ALL of the Desert Wind turbines are within this 28 mile range, and some are only 14± miles away from the ROTHR facility! (See graphic, above.)

We often hear two responses inaccurately forwarded as “solutions” to this serious problem: 1) the federal wind energy DoD Siting Clearinghouse, and 2) NC’s Wind Permitting law, H484. Unfortunately neither offers our military any meaningful or guaranteed protections when it comes to industrial wind energy. In dealing with the Desert Wind threat to the ROTHR facility, our Military Report carefully explains why neither of these two “solutions” have substance.

At this point, until H484 is properly fixed, the only genuine protection that NC military bases have, is for local communities to pass an effective protection-oriented wind ordinance. In the Desert Wind case we have hoped that Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties would upgrade their existing wind laws to that level. So far that has not been the case, as some County Commissioners have been overly enamored by the siren’s song allure of found money.

In November 2014, the Navy was instructed to sign a DoD brokered “agreement” with Iberdrola, regarding the ROTHR situation. Despite repeated requests for a copy of this agreement (even from the County Commissioners), for nine months Iberdrola only provided a seriously redacted copy. In other words, no local representatives knew exactly what changes have been made to the Desert Wind Project — even as of the time of their 7/14/15 ribbon cutting ceremony! This is an excellent example of how it is to work with these developers.

Regarding the Virginia ROTHR facility impact, our understanding is that the military (although they have not publicized this) acknowledged that this critical national security surveillance could be degraded by 15%± by the Desert Wind project.  Due to wind energy promotion being a political priority, the Navy was directed to accept this deterioration of their operational performance. Citizens should be aware of the fact that our military mission (and national security) is now considered less important than renewable energy promotion…

The Navy ROTHR facility is not an isolated case. What happened in the Pantego (NC) case was very similar. Additionally, in thousands of military-related cases presented to the DoD Siting Clearinghouse, we are aware of only one situation where a wind energy project was denied. For further evidence of what is going on, please read this fascinating exchange in this US House Armed Services Hearing (e.g. page 19), where it is made quite clear what our current political priorities are. All this is written up in our detailed Military Report. Articles about the ROTHR conflict appeared in the Carolina Journal and on Breitbart. 

Unfortunately there may be another major complication from this situation. Read about what is happening in the small town of Newport, NY. They have a nearby radar facility, as well as a wind project. A petition was put out by some very concerned citizens, because of some “startling cancer statistics.” Their concern is that this tiny town now has 6% of the US cases of a particular cancer. As the petition explains, local people believe that industrial turbines in the path of nearby radar redirects this energy into people’s homes — and quite possibly increasing their health risk.

 

Some Misc Documents of Interest —

TurbineSize05/11/11 – Wind Plan Moves Ahead published in the Daily Advance.

06/04/11 – Wind Expensive vs Fuel published in the Daily Advance.

06/04/11 – Wind Generates Debate published in the Daily Advance.

02/17/15 – CompassNews360 report on the Elizabeth City Education Event.

02/16/15 – Wind Power Skeptic Decries Local Project published in the Daily Advance.

02/17/15 – My response to the Daily Advance regarding their 2/16/15 article.

02/21/15 – The Daily Advance correction, and my replies.

3/20/15 – A Facebook page for NC Coastal Wind Energy was created (NENCWindEnergy).

07/14/15 – Ribbon cutting ceremony reported by PilotOnline.

09/25/15+ – History of one lawsuit pertaining to the Desert Wind project

The NC Utilities Commission Documents on this project. (The Desert Wind Docket # is “EMP-49 Sub 0”.)

This was the first Industrial Wind Project presented to the NCUC. There were no comments submitted from independent energy experts, as the assumption was that the NCUC Public Staff would make a thorough presentation in behalf of NC citizens (e.g. regarding the problems with reliability, cost, etc.) — which is their statutory obligation. Unfortunately that did not happen, which resulted in the NCUC giving their approval.

Subsequent to the NCUC approval, the developer tried to work out a deal with NC utilities to buy their electricity. Appropriately, Duke, Dominion and Progress all refused to buy the expensive wind energy electricity.

Following those decisions, then Governor Perdue wrote to the CEOs of those three utility companies, pleading with them to pay a premium for this unreliable electricity (at the expense of NC consumers and businesses)! See the tawdry story details here. Fortunately, none of the power companies was coerced into making this unwise decision — which put the Desert Wind project in limbo for some time.

In a classic case of greenwashing, Amazon bailed out this uneconomical wind project — despite the potential national security implications.

 

Some Pasquotank and Perquimans County Wind Law Information —

Ordinance Bullet Points (on outline of the basics that need to be included in a local protections-oriented wind law). 

Writing An Effective Wind Ordinance (more details on the Bullet Points).

Pasquotank County’s Tall Structure Ordinance [allows turbine heights to 600 feet].

A “Conditional Use Permit” (CUP) was proposed for Pasquotank that was very favorable to the wind developer.

These were the comments that had been submitted regarding the problems with that Conditional Use Permit.

Despite the many serious issues identified, the CUP was passed.

Subsequently Pasquotank County passed an “Economic Development” agreement where they gave the wind developer a 70% credit on property taxes.

July 2014: County Commissioner meeting minutes (update of Desert Wind is item #1).

Perquimans County’s Tall Structure Ordinance [see section 907.27, page 67].

Perquimans County passed measures similar to those in neighboring Pasquotank County.

How do either of these ordinances compare to Carteret County’sMajor differences!

Here is a Rating comparison of each. Here is a Data comparison of each.

Contact info for Pasquotank County Commissioners.

Contact info for Perquimans County Commissioners.

[Sometimes the good question is asked: why should the zoning and ordinance for a wind project be any different from a large commercial “Big Box” project (e.g. a Walmart)? The reason that special zoning and ordinances are needed is because there are MAJOR differences. See here to see a list showing some of the differences.]