Tag Archives: wind energy

Can Wind Energy Blow NC Away? FAQs about Wind Energy in Our State

The winds of change could be felt at North Carolina’s Clean Technology Summit February 18-19, but some were stronger than others.

Most Clean Technology Summit attendees already had the sympathies that make them open to wind energy’s development in North Carolina. But if there is a real victory to be won, everyone will need to be reached.

“While it’s wise for us to acknowledge that some of [the opposition’s] techniques may have some potential, so to speak, we also need to acknowledge that fear and misinformation is kind of the core of their approach,” Don Giecek of Apex Wind Energy said. “And we can’t afford to, nor do we want to, utilize those approaches. It’s important for us to stick to the facts and to be transparent—we have to do better.”

Green technology has been an unpredictable field for a while, particularly for wind energy. Several speakers, most from The Path Forward for NC’s Emerging Wind Industry panel, emphasized this point.

“In 2007 I was hired by a client to go out and prospect sites,” April Montgomery, owner of Renewable Energy and Preservation, said. “Today, if somebody called me with that same question and said, ‘We wanted to build a wind project in North Carolina,’ I would say, ‘Why?’”

But they have not given up yet. Here are five frequently asked questions North Carolinians have about wind energy as addressed by the experts:

How expensive is it?

“‘You guys are expensive, you’re just a government-funded program and, you know, your business is wholly supported by Obama and his policies.’ Well—it’s simply not true.” – Craig Poff, Iberdrola Renewables

Upfront costs of wind farms are  very high, even on-shore.

Poff said this makes building them hard without start-up capital.

“Wind is a special beast,” said Wayne Harris, spokesperson from Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission, whose county is one of the two hosting the Amazon wind farm. “It has a multi-hundred million dollar upfront cost that doesn’t really work well with the existing property tax.”

But if it is allowed to grow, it could blossom. Lazard, a financial advisory firm, puts the unsubsidized, levelized cost of wind between $32 and $77 per megawatt/hour. That’s the lowest cost for either conventional or alternative, Poff said.

How does it affect local communities?

 “We found that, almost unanimously as a matter of fact, people were very happy with the deals that they had struck with the wind industry.” – Wayne Harris, Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission

The first utility-scale wind farm in North Carolina, the Amazon Wind Farm US East, will begin work this year. It is in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties.

Harris, Pasquotank’s representative, said education helped locals get used to the idea.

“We looked at what other communities in other areas with stronger wind had done for Iberdrol and we talked with those people, we found that, almost unanimously as a matter of fact, people were very happy with the deals that they had struck with the wind industry,” Harris said.

He said he found profit because farmers are getting $300,000 annually and still being able to farm their land. And very little investment comes from the county to support that tax investment.

The panel moderator said a tax spillover is an added benefit for the communities.

“Regardless of that incentive grant pack, generally these projects are of the capital investment nature that make them still the largest taxpayer in that area,” Katherine Ross of Parker Poe said. “And we are talking about counties that don’t get a lot of capital investment projects”

The panelists continued to try to balance the public knowledge out.

“There’s an information asymmetry,” Harris said.

Is this a good energy source for NC?

“We can’t go make the wind blow harder… The sites are getting tougher, the wind is what it is, so we have to constantly up our game in terms of technology in the way we built projects, the way we design them, and everything else to maximize it.” –Craig Poff, Iberdrola Renewables

Even as the cream of the East Coast crop, North Carolina winds don’t always blow you away. Midwestern winds are around 8 meters per second, while North Carolina winds range 5.5-6 meters per second.

But technology has evolved to meet this need.

Don Giecek talks mechanical advancement in lighter, longer blades and stronger foundations for height:

“The combination of being higher up and having a bigger windswept area, put those together and those are a couple of the significant reasons why wind resource, while at a previous time in the past might have thought to be not particularly strong, now it is clearly strong enough with these advancements to be profitable and to warrant the investment.”

Kellan Dickens of GE Renewable Energy promotes cutting edge smart farms.

“Part of the value of having a farm that can both predict and kind of adapt to changing wind environments is that it operates much better in lower wind conditions,” Dickens said.

He expects this to rise in the southeast in particular.

Other objections in North Carolina are the effects on agriculture, the military and wildlife.

“You can have a project that has 25, 30,000 acres as part of the project, but loses less than 50 acres out of ag production,” Montgomery said.

She has a lot of experience in shared usage. It also helps her with the other two mitigating factors.

“There’s a lot of minutiae in there that you have to get into to figure out the right site,” Montgomery said.

She said for the military, not every area of interest—recently claiming 80 of 100 counties—is completely off limits. And for animals, it is dependent on location and species.

“Wind has a low impact level on wildlife,” she said.

What is the current NC wind policy?

Appalachian State University installs the new ARE110 with Robert Preus from Abundant Renewable Energy.
Appalachian State University installs the new ARE110 with Robert Preus from Abundant Renewable Energy.

“For me, who’s responsible for spending money to take risks and develop projects, I’m not going to go to a place where it’s kind of like whack-a-mole. I wanna know I’m whacking something.” –Don Giecek, Apex Wind Energy, speaking in particular about House Bill 484 in the 2013 NC General Assembly session

Despite popular support for renewables in-state, and against claims of anti-renewable politicians, incentives are very low for wind energy now.

“We don’t get a red cent until we have invested—in the case of the Amazon Wind Farm US East, approximately $400 million—and began producing energy,” said Poff.

In fact, politics is not supporting wind energy—it is the only thing stopping it. Senate Bill 484, known as the Wind Bill, is the current enemy. Its proposed goal is to preserve military flight training spaces and bird habitats.

Montgomery said there are no longer issues of land, lack of a market or mitigating effects. She, like other panelists, disagreed that the bill was actually helpful to the military or wildlife.

“It comes down, legislatively, to this bill, this is the stop-gap,” Montgomery said.

“There is nothing in 484 that is additive but uncertainty,” added Poff. He also said that, regardless of politics, all the processes the bill claimed to regulate were already accounted for legislatively.

Legislation on the issue stays in flux, making investment and planning difficult.

What areas in the state are the best for wind energy?

The Middelgrunden Wind Farm off the coast of Denmark
The Middelgrunden Wind Farm off the coast of Denmark

“We don’t have a land issue. I can tell you that I personally have worked on over a hundred thousand acres of wind lease in this state with owners that are willing. We don’t have mitigation issues… It comes down to legislatively.” – April Montgomery, REAP

The coastal plain is for now NC’s biggest area of interest. But what about the mountains and the sea?

“[Smart wind farming] typically works better in ridge-line areas,” Dickens said.

Dickens said whether it can get there is another issue in itself.

Ridge-line laws, based on scenic preservation, prevent the construction of large turbines on mountains. It’s clear that southeastern communities are protective of appearance and wary of the change in job makeup

So what about off-shore capabilities?

Dickens said they are a whole other kind of industry.

The panel addressed it very briefly.

“If you go to the store and there’s two gallons of milk, one is twelve bucks and one is four bucks, which one are you gonna buy? That’s where the challenge is right now with offshore,” Poff said. “I mean, it is out-of-sight, out-of-mind, it’s politically expedient because you can be for wind energy, just, ‘Do it out there.’ But it doesn’t work in the market.”


How does wind energy stand up to solar?

“Wind has had a slightly more turbulent road than solar in this state.” – April Montgomery, REAP

With issues of mitigation and land seeming unsolved, solar seemed more popular for a while. Lazard saw this to be a trend despite the higher overall cost.

“The military is taking great pride over the years in growing to be an innovator,” Paul Friday of Marine Corps Installations East said. “Our emphasis has been in geothermal, solar, biofuel end of the equation on the renewable side. Wind has been a challenge for us.”

But for reasons explored previously, the way is getting paved faster. Certainly both are complementary.

Wind energy advocates do not see it as a contest.

“Wind energy doesn’t compete with solar. Wind energy competes with natural gas,” Poff said.




Five Points about Wind Energy in North Carolina

Wind is a resource that North Carolina has in abundance. Some see this free natural resource as potential dollar signs as well as a clean renewable energy source. Wind energy investors are trying to find ways to turn this resource into a profit for their companies.

The 3rd Annual North Carolina Clean Tech Summit in Chapel Hill hosted a panel touting “The Path Forward for NC’s Emerging Wind Industry.” Panelists included Paul Friday from Marine Corps Installation East, Don Giecek of Apex Wind Energy, Wayne Harris from Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission, April Montgomery founder of Renewable Energy and Preservation (REAP), and Craig Poff of Ibredrola Renewables. The topic discussion highlighted five major points related to wind energy development in North Carolina.

Technology – How to Catch the Wind

The state of North Carolina has enough wind to make wind farms profitable.

Giecek of Apex Wind Energy concurs North Carolina’s measurable wind is strong enough to support a utility scale wind farm. Current advances in wind turbine technology of longer blades result in a larger area to catch the wind.

“You combine that with some advancements in foundations and steel structures for the towers that allow you to get higher,” said Giecek. “The available wind is now clearly strong enough to be profitable.”

Advances in wind technology have opened up North Carolina to the prospect of profitable wind power projects.

 Siting – Where to Catch Wind

The two largest industries in North Carolina are agriculture and the military. Wind power projects need to be sited so they do not interfere with these two giant economic powers.

“Siting is a really complex issue when it comes to wind development. Wind projects have a large envelope, but a small footprint,” said  Montgomery who founded Renewable Energy and Preservation (REAP).

REAP identifies development sites for utility-scale wind projects by considering needs of commercial, environmental, and regulatory components.

Montgomery is confident that developers can find areas in North Carolina where wind power is compatible with the existing land use. There are no sites where there is zero impact, but the impact can be minimized in places.

“You can have a project that has 25 to 30 thousand acres that is part of the project, but loses less than 50 acres out of agriculture production,” said Montgomery.

Wind power projects could not be sited in populous areas like Cary or Charlotte. Co-development in eastern NC where agriculture and military rule the landscape is a viable prospect.

Politics Blue or Red? – NC House Bill 484

Political polarization makes it harder for wind and other renewable projects to get approved.

NC House Bill 484 was passed in 2013 (http://www.newbernsj.com/article/20130504/News/305049891/?Start=1).

This NC Republican era bill makes it exceedingly difficult to get a wind project off the ground. It does not have clearly defined standards for the projects to meet.

Things have changed drastically since 2009 when NC was a Blue state from top to bottom according to Poff of Iberdrola Renewables.

“There is just so much uncertainty in that bill. It is duplicative. It is arbitrary. It’s subjective. It’s just not a predictable atmosphere,” said Poff. “You’re talking about a development cycle that may be five years long and millions invested.” The uncertain outcome of the approval process inhibits the wind business from an economic perspective.

House Bill 484 is a major hurdle for wind projects located in the state.

Economies of Scale – Wind Subsidies

Economies of scale are the cost advantages that companies obtain due to size, output, or scale of operation. Poff maintains there are some large scale interests who “really have messaged around” that the support for wind is government funded. Notably those associated with the massive fossil fuel industry, such as the Koch brothers.

Truth is-wind power does not get any subsidies until after the project is built and producing power. This is not what the opponents of wind power would have you believe.

“In November of 2015 the unsubsidized cost of wind ranged from 32 cents per kilowatt hour up to the mid-70s or thereabouts. That is cheaper than almost every other utility scale generation. And that was unsubsidized,” said Poff.

Profits – Bottom Line Benefits of Wind to NC

Wind projects can bring much needed income into rural North Carolina counties.

Harris of the Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission emphasized the monetary benefit this way.

“Even with the rebates Iberdrola is now the largest tax-payer in Pasquotank County by a comfortable margin. It is a quarter million dollars a year,” said Harris.

The traditional utilities and Wal Mart lag behind in second, third and fourth place.

“The landowners get 300 thousand dollars in Pasquotank County and they lose almost no farmland,” Harris said.

Farmers share in the income generated by wind. They also can still make money farming the land not utilized by wind turbines.

Tax revenues in the county are up 52% due to the Iberdrola project. All of these benefits happened with the county investing almost nothing in additional infrastructure to support the wind project. The wind industry creates a win-win scenario in NC for Pasquotank County and agriculture business.

Who can argue with a bigger bottom line?

Carolina Students Consider Closeby Wind Turbines

Most people would support something that could keep air cleaner, improve rural economies, and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Wind turbines can do all three, but often run into roadblocks because of complaints that they are ugly. Many citizens support the technology in theory but don’t want wind turbines to mar local landscapes. I asked five UNC students how they would feel about being able to see a wind turbine from their bedroom windows.