Inside the building, though, a storm brewed over House Bill 589. Earlier in the week, Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Onslow County, abruptly tacked on a four-year wind energy moratorium to a hard-fought consensus bill that would encourage more solar power in the state.
On Wednesday, the House refused to concur with the amendment. By Thursday, the House and Senate leadership had appointed a conference committee, charging it with breaking the impasse.
On Friday, the committee finally emerged with a compromise. The moratorium on new wind energy permits — or expansions of the sole existing one — would be shortened from four years to 18 months. As in the original amendment, the moratorium would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2017.
At 1:26 a.m., the Senate voted 36-4 to approve the bill. Sixteen minutes later, the House did the same, 66-41.
Solar energy would live to see another day. The future of wind energy, though, would be suspended.
As the bill heads to the governor’s desk, the 104-turbine Amazon Wind Farm, already generating electricity in eastern North Carolina, will be largely unaffected by the moratorium. Iberdolas, the Spanish firm that owns the project, can’t expand to 150 turbines, as planned. But the farm can continue to operate.
However, in the early stages of federal permitting, the Timbermill, owned by Apex Clean Energy, and the Alligator River wind farms can’t apply for any state permits. Although they could continue engineering and design studies, there is still the risk that future legislation could extend the moratorium. Timbermill, which planned for 105 turbines on 15,000 acres, has already been dealt setbacks in Perquimans County, where the commissioners denied the company’s permit request to build 57 of them.
The legislation also appropriates $150,000 to hire a company through the standard bidding process to draw maps showing areas of potential conflict between wind farms and military training exercises. (One could jest that given the legislature’s history with maps, there could be unease about the results.)
The shortened moratorium is an acquiescence to to Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, a Democrat from Northampton County whose district includes prime real estate for wind farms. During the original Senate floor debate, she argued that the four-year moratorium jeopardized a $1 billion investment in one of the poorest areas of the state. Any moratorium should be no more than two years, she said. She got 18 months.