By Jeff Hampton
© November 7, 2010
Camden County, N.C.
Hundreds of wind turbines, each about 400 feet tall, could be coming to at least three farm tracts in northeastern North Carolina - including Hales Lake in Camden County - where the Navy proposes a jet airfield.
Three meteorological towers erected in January near Sandy Road in an area known as the Desert in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties have recorded winds strong enough to make the project viable, said Shelly Cox, director of the Pasquotank County Planning Department. Wind speeds must average 12 to 14 mph.
Depending on year long results that are to conclude in two months, 150 towers producing enough energy to power 75,000 homes could be built, said Craig Poff, senior business developer for Oregon-based Iberdrola Renewables. The company markets itself as a leader in wind power and gas storage.
Poff would not give exact wind data from the meteorological towers but said numbers are good enough that the clean energy company is "moving forward" with the project. Iberdrola Renewables has built 41 wind farms across the United States, according to a company website.
Poff confirmed the company has also set up a "met" tower in Currituck County in the Bull Yard fields in Shawboro and has interest in Hales Lake, a farming area of more than 10,000 acres with several landowners.
More than two years ago, the Navy named a tract in Hales Lake as one of five potential sites for a jet practice runway known as an outlying landing field. Citizen groups and elected officials have opposed the project, hiring attorneys, lobbyists and engineers in an effort to stop the Navy's plans. But locals fear the Navy could move ahead anyway.
Massive wind farms with 400-foot towers could make the difference, said Matt Wood, a Pasquotank County commissioner and a partner in Hales Lake farming property.
"It would not be friendly to an OLF," Wood said.
Property owners, including Wood, have talked with Iberdrola Renewables officials and have visited similar projects in other states, he said. Tall wind towers, even in the Bull Yard, could obstruct an airfield in Hales Lake. The two tracts are separated only by swampy woodlands, Wood said.
Invenergy, a Chicago-based energy company, has also expressed interest in Hales Lake, he said.
Wind-farm projects have run into opposition across the country with complaints of noise, unsightly views and harm to wildlife, such as birds flying into the turbine blades. Possible projects here would be in remote farm fields.
Construction of the Desert project would require 590 workers over 18 months, with a local economic impact of $135 million, said Wayne Harris, director of the Albemarle Economic Development Commission.
It would create about 19 permanent jobs paying more than $100,000 each, he said. Citing a state study, he estimated between 30 and 120 indirect jobs and an ongoing economic increase of $89 million to $108 million.
"This is a lot like any high-tech industry," Harris said. "It provides benefits without so much employment but employment that is high quality."
Iberdrola Renewables increased its wind energy generation in the United States between April and June by nearly 32 percent, according to the company website.
Growth came in part from $577 million in federal grants and a "favorable regulatory environment." Projects must be finished and operating before getting federal grants or tax breaks, Poff said.