Maps have rarely been the legislature’s forte. And now a controversial contract to map potential interference between wind farms and military training exercises won’t be awarded by the law’s deadline — today.
Paul Coble, director of the Legislative Services Office, is in charge of issuing the contract, worth $150,000, as laid out in House Bill 589. His assistant told Policy Watch today that the deal “is still being negotiated,” and that it’s uncertain when it will be finalized.
The fact that Coble, a conservative Republican and a former Raleigh mayor and Wake County Commissioner, unilaterally is doing the deal-making is itself is unusual, if not unprecedented. The Environmental Review Commission, composed of elected lawmakers, historically has been in charge of issuing and awarding requests for proposals.
The majority of House Bill 589 dealt with solar power, but at the last-minute, Sen. Harry Brown pushed through an 18-month wind energy moratorium, plus a mapping study illustrating any potential conflicts between military exercises and the turbines.
But even before the bill became law, environmental advocates and Democratic lawmakers argued that it was redundant. These maps have already been drawn by the US Department of Defense.
Rep. John Szoka, a Republican from Cumberland County, co-sponsored the solar portion of the bill. While imperfect, it does contain provisions that could help advance the installation and production of solar energy in North Carolina. Szoka told Policy Watch that he was unaware of the delay in awarding the contract. He said Coble had asked for his input on the RFP earlier this year, but that he had not been updated on the contract’s progress since.
Complicating matters further, when the RFP was issued in September, it exceeded the scope of the original legislation to include the military’s compatibility with solar and biomass facilities and electrical transmission towers.
Earlier this fall, Allison Eckley, communications manager for the NC Sustainable Energy Association, issued a statement saying the group was concerned about the change: “The 18-month wind moratorium and this new $150,000 study are another example of opponents attacking renewable energy projects and the private property rights of eastern North Carolinians.
Sen. Harry Brown, a longtime opponent of wind energy, said while the bill was being debated that the purpose of the hiatus is to allow the General Assembly “ample time to study the extent and scope of military operations in the state and to consider the impact of future wind energy facilities and energy infrastructure on military operations, training and readiness.”
Brown could not be reached today for comment.
But, as critics noted during committee and floor debates, the Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse was created specifically to house documents and maps related to energy projects and the military. The clearinghouse’s library includes a map showing no conflicts with Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, while the area around Cherry Point is off-limits for wind projects and other tall structures.
The 18-month moratorium on new and expanded wind energy projects started retroactively, Jan. 1, 2017, and runs through Dec. 31, 2018.
According to the law, the mapping study is scheduled to be completed in May 2018. It’s unclear what the ramifications of further delays will be, especially if they postpone the final due date.