RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina legislators want the incoming Trump administration to shut down a nearly complete, $400 million wind farm they believe poses a national security threat because it's too close to a long-distance surveillance radar installation.
Ten legislators including the leaders of the state House and Senate signed a letter sent to President-elect Donald Trump's transition team, House Speaker Tim Moore's spokesman Joseph Kyzer said Thursday.
The legislators said they worry that the 300-foot-tall wind turbine towers with blades nearly 200 feet long will interfere with a long-distance Navy radar installation in nearby Chesapeake, Virginia. The radar system scans hundreds of miles into the Atlantic and Caribbean for ships and planes.
The wind farm is on about 20,000 acres in rural northeastern North Carolina near Elizabeth City, an area with some of the best on-land wind potential on the East Coast.
The legislative opposition comes after all 104 towers have been constructed, about $400 million has been invested and full commercial electricity production is weeks away, said Paul Copleman, a spokesman for Avangrid Renewables, a U.S. subsidiary of Spanish clean-energy giant Iberdrola S.A.
Amazon will buy the electricity output, comparable to the power 60,000 U.S. homes use in a year, to run its Virginia data centers.
A 2014 agreement between Avangrid and the Navy said that although there is potential for conflict between the wind farm and the radar array, the Pentagon also sought to enhance the country's renewable energy resources. The agreement specified placement of the project's wind turbines and an understanding that the company would curtail operations "for a national security or defense purpose."
"If the wind farm threatened any military readiness or capabilities, they wouldn't have cleared us to build," Copleman said in an email. "Specifically at this site, we reduced the size of the project, arranged specific turbines differently, ran extensive modeling in conjunction with their scientists, and will continue to share operating data once we reach full commercial operation."
But the lawmakers' letter said the Pentagon dropped opposition to the wind farm because of the "political correctness" of outgoing President Barack Obama's administration.
State lawmakers previously have proposed legislation restricting wind farms that would disrupt rural quality of life or interfere with routes used by low-flying military jets and helicopters. Placing tall turbines within those flight paths could give military commanders reasons for shifting key air units away from North Carolina, which has the fourth largest military population in the country and hundreds of thousands of private-sector support jobs.
Sen. Louis Pate said he signed the letter less out of concern with radar interference than with the towers creating a new obstacle to Marine Corps and Air Force jets based in eastern North Carolina and Navy aircraft based in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Those aircraft train at an Outer Banks bombing range, and their routes should be unfettered, said Pate, R-Wayne.
Pate said he wants the Trump administration to stop short of scrapping the wind farm and force changes in the Navy's agreement so that Avangrid's operations are shut down any time there is more than marginal radar interference.
"We know that we've got to have electricity and perhaps the renewable type; the day is coming that we're going to have rely more and more upon that. However, we do need to be aware of what impact it might have upon military operations," Pate said. "We've spoken out over the course of the past three years or so, and we don't seem to be getting a lot of attention."