Environment

With a $9 million bid, Avangrid wins offshore wind farm lease near Kitty Hawk

A European offshore wind farm (Photo:Creative Commons via Andreas Klinke Johannsen on Flickr)

This is what $9 million will buy: The historic Powerhouse Square on West Street in Raleigh. More than 11,000 iPhones. Seven heart transplants. Three weekend trips to Mar-a- Lago for President Trump. And 122,405 acres of ocean and its floor off the North Carolina coast.

The Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management today held a lease sale for the acreage, which will be used for a wind farm 27.5 miles east of Kitty Hawk. The online bidding began Thursday morning at $244,000. By 4 p.m., after 17 rounds, four companies had dwindled to one winner: Avangrid, with a bid of $9,066,650. The federal government will still own the acreage, but Avangrid will have the exclusive rights to develop wind energy there.

Avangrid, a US subsidiary of the Spanish company Iberdrola, also operates the onshore Amazon Wind Farm near Elizabeth City.

If fully developed, the lease area potentially could generate 1,486 megawatts, enough to power a half-million homes.

However, construction and permitting could take more than 20 years. Before it’s built, the project must go through a site assessment plan, a construction and operations plan, and an environmental review.

Depending on their size and location, offshore wind farms can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island has five turbines; it cost $450 million for permitting and construction.

 

Environment, Legislature

Bidding reaches $7.5 million for state’s first offshore wind farm — and it could go higher

The federal government is leasing these 122,405 acres for the state’s first off-shore wind farm. North Carolina has the most wind energy potential of any Atlantic state. (Map: Bureau of Ocean Management)

[Update 2: In Round 17, one company bid $9 million. No other company has matched or exceeded it. Stay tuned for the BOEM’s announcement of the winning bid.]

 

[Update 1: There have now been 15 bidding rounds, for $7.5 million. The number of companies bidding just dropped to two.]

Twelve rounds of bidding, four companies and $5.3 million on the table — and so far, no one’s flinching. Since 9:30 this morning, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has been auctioning 122,405 acres of ocean for an off-shore wind farm 27.5 miles from Kitty Hawk.

The winning bidder would not own the acreage, but lease it from the BOEM, a division of the U.S. Department of Interior. This is an online lease sale, so there’s no wonderful soundtrack of an auctioneer (five-five-five— do-I-hear-five-point-three-million?!) Nonetheless, the bidding updates, which started at $244,000, have been interesting.

North Carolina has more offshore wind energy potential than any Atlantic state. This would the state’s first off-shore wind farm.

More than 35 people or groups commented on the proposed lease, indicating the many potential conflicts even clean energy can encounter. The World Shipping Council was concerned about the turbines’ interference of ocean traffic. The Town of Kitty Hawk wanted the farm farther offshore, plus was worried about visual clutter of farm-to-shore transmission lines.

Southern Environmental Law Center,  US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Marine Mammal Commission, while largely supportive of wind energy, urged the bureau to conduct thorough environmental assessments and offset potential harm to birds, sea life and ecosystems.

Eight companies filed paperwork with the bureau to participate in the auction: Avangrid Renewables, which owns an onshore wind farm near Elizabeth City; Enbridge Holdings/Green Energy in Houston; Shell WindEnergy; Wind Future LLC, Outer Banks Ocean Energy in Charlottesville, Va.; PNE in Chicago, a multi-international company Statoil; and WPD Offshore Alpha, based in Bremen, Germany.

Wind energy and its more popular renewable sibling, solar power, are key to a resolution filed today by State Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat. HR 401  would shift North Carolina to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. If the resolution passes (unlikely, but Harrison gets points for chipping away at the fossil fuel block) the state could spend the next 33 years weaning itself off the coal/natural gas teat. Converting to 100 percent clean energy could help the planet avoid what the resolution describes as a “climate catastrophe.”

In addition to the enormous wind energy potential, North Carolina had 1,140 megawatts of solar electric capacity in 2015, placing the state second in the nation.  Of that capacity, the industry has installed enough infrastructure to power 260,000 homes — roughly equivalent to the population of Durham County. And In 2016, the solar industry invested nearly $1.7 billion on installations in the state, an increase of 159 percent over the previous year.

Primary co-sponsors are Democratic Reps. John Autry, Jean Farmer-Butterfield and Susan Fisher.

agriculture, Environment

Don’t spray this at home: Bee-friendly bill would limit public sales of certain pesticides

Bee hive at American Tobacco Campus, Durham (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

T oday was Ag Day at the legislature, and the commons was packed with people promoting North Carolina livestock, fruits and vegetables, including watermelons, strawberries, sweet potatoes and even wine. All of these crops need bees to pollinate them; in the case of wine, mead, like that produced at Starrlight in Pittsboro or Honeygirl in Durham, requires a consistent supply of high-quality honey made by healthy bees.

But neonicotinoid pesticides, also known as neonics, threaten the bee population in North Carolina and nationwide. These pesticides dull a bee’s memory, as if the insect had dementia, preventing it from finding its way back to its home hive. The chemicals weaken a bee’s immune system, making it vulnerable to disease and mite infestations. Direct exposure can kill the bee within minutes.

Introduced on Ag Day, House Bill 363 would limit the purchase and use of neonicotinoid pesticides to licensed applicators, farmers and veterinarians. No longer would the casual gardener be able to buy Rose Defense, Ortho Bug B Gon or Mallet — all brand names of neonic products — off the shelf. Large hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s are already phasing out neonics, but smaller retail outlets still carry them, said Preston Peck, policy director for Toxic Free NC.

The bill is modeled on legislation passed in Maryland, Connecticut and Minnesota. Co-sponsors are Democrats Pricey Harrison and Grier Martin, and Republicans Chuck McGrady and Mitchell Setzer.

From left: Hoke County beekeeper Rodney Medley, Toxic Free NC Policy Director Preston Peck and State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), one of four co-sponsors of House Bill 363. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

McGrady, a beekeeper when he’s not at the General Assembly, said the issue is “near and dear to my heart.”

Former beekeeper and state Rep. John Ager of Buncombe County owns an apple orchard and a blueberry farm. “This is critical right now,” said Ager, a Democrat. “This is my farm’s future. .

In 2015-16, those repeated physical insults resulted the loss of 44 percent of commercial hives across the U.S. because of colony collapse disorder. In North Carolina, that tally was 41 percent. “That’s staggering and unsustainable,” Peck said.  In January, US Fish & Wildlife Service listed the rusty-patched bumblebee as an endangered species. Part of its demise, Peck said, can be attributed to neonics. (The order has not gone into effect, pending the Trump administration’s and Congress’s dismantling of the ESA).

And there is a growing body of evidence that indicates these chemicals run off from farm fields and into waterways, where they harm aquatic life.

The bill also directs the NC Pesticide Board to monitor EPA studies about neonics and to study whether the state should regulate the sale of seeds coated with neonics. Those seeds are particularly harmful to birds.

The state Pesticide Board has had ample opportunity to regulate the sale of neonics. For more than two years, Peck has lobbied the board to exercise its regulatory authority. Over the past six months, the board has heard presentations from scientists and experts on the effects of the pesticides, both on pollinators and aquatic life. It also learned that NC Department of Environmetnal Quality doesn’t test waterways for the pesticide. Nonetheless, just yesterday the board again punted the issue, voting to take no action.

Nothing hurts more than opening a hive and finding out that it’s dead Click To Tweet

“The regulatory authority has chosen not to do anything,” Peck said. “Now we’re turning to the legislature.”

Rodney Medley has five hives in Hoke County. “I’m not saying get rid of pesticides altogether, but we need to mitigate the additional pressure on bees,” he said. “Nothing hurts more than opening a hive and finding out that it’s dead.”

 

 

 

Environment, Legislature

Renewable energy popular among voters, regardless of party. Duke Energy, not so much.

 

W hile Republican state lawmakers are crafting bills to stall or roll back renewable energy, that could cost them votes in the next election — even among hard-core conservatives. A new poll sponsored by Conservatives for Clean Energy reveals that more than 83 percent of North Carolina voters polled said they would be more likely to support a lawmaker or candidate who supports policies that encourage renewable energy options such as solar, wind, and swine and poultry waste.

Broken down by party, 79.1 percent of Republican voters and 73.5 percent of Trump supporters would support a clean-energy candidate.

Conservatives for Clean Energy hired Republican consulting firm Strategic Partners Solutions to conduct a telephone poll of 600 North Carolina voters on Feb. 26 and 27. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent. This is the third year for the poll.

There was also strong support for keeping — and even strengthening — the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. Currently, public utilities have to provide 6 percent of their energy from renewable sources; that benchmark is scheduled to rise to 10 percent in 2018 top out at 12.5 percent in 2021. House Bill 267 would flatline that threshold at 8 percent. Republicans Jimmy Dixon and John Bell are the primary sponsors of the bill.

Sixty percent of Democrats, 59 percent of unaffiliated voters, and 45 percent of Republicans would support doubling the renewable energy threshold to 25 percent.

But even skeptical voters warm to the REPS when they learn more about its benefits: 34,000 new solar jobs, and additional tax revenue for local government, the poll said. Nearly 56 percent agree that multi-acre solar projects positively impact communities.

E nergy efficiency legislation was also popular among respondents. Eighty-eight percent of all voters would more likely support a candidate who promoted energy efficiency legislation. That includes 82.7 percent of Trump voters.

Filed last week, Senate Bill 236 would encourage energy efficiency with several new programs to reduce the state’s electricity consumption by 40 to 60 percent over the next 10 years. First, the bill would require the state utilities commission to establish a tiered rate system. The proposed rate structure would charge high-use customers more than low-use. Low-income families could receive an exemption.

The bill would also create an Energy Efficiency Bank. The funds, which would be administered by a third-party, could be loaned to electricity customers to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Customers would repay the loan through monthly installments on their electricity bill. Low-income households would receive grants, which would not need to be repaid.

The bill’s co-sponsors are Democrats Mike Woodard, Erika Smith-Ingram and Valerie Foushee.

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Courts & the Law, Environment, News

Richmond County Commission’s public comment policy has violated First Amendment — for 20 years

Clockwise from front: Members of Concerned Citizens of Richmond County Kim McCall, the Rev. Leo Woodberry, the Rev. Cary Rodgers and Loretta Slater. In the background behind the front door is County Commissioner Kenneth Robinette. The demonstration was co-organized by the Dogwood Alliance and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

 

A s Richmond County Commissioner Kenneth Robinette walked to the administration building for his monthly meeting, he passed about a half-dozen demonstrators who had assembled near the steps outside. It was their only opportunity to be publicly heard by Robinette, because once inside, they would not be allowed to speak.

Since 2008, the Richmond County Commissioners have restricted public comment during their monthly meetings, which is unconstitutional. According to the county’s “public appearance policy,” each meeting provides a 30-minute “open forum.” But it isn’t really open: Citizens are forbidden from discussing any item that appears on that meeting’s agenda.

“This is institutional denial should be concerning for every citizen in Richmond County,” said the Rev. Cary Rodgers, also a member of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. “This is a systematic, institutional oppression of voices.”

This is a systematic, institutional oppression of voices Click To Tweet

Reached by email, Jonathan Jones, director of the Open Government Coalition at Elon University, said the county’s policy “clearly violates the First Amendment.”

Under North Carolina law, counties and cities are required allocated time in their meetings for public comment at least monthly. This time is known as a “limited public forum,” said Jones, who is a First Amendment scholar. And in limited public forums, officials can’t single out a category of class or speech to prohibit.

“There’s almost no getting around that,” Jones added.

Government officials can require people to speak from a podium and they can place time limits on the comments. “But they can’t really regulate the content,” Jones said. That includes comments “deemed inappropriate,” even if they are slanderous or libelous. While those comments could be the subject of a separate defamation suit, it is not the commission’s prerogative to legally enforce restrictions on that speech.

A few courts have ruled that within these “limited public forums,” a government body can narrow the scope of comments to topics that are germane to that unit of government. For example, city councils have no control over school funding; that falls to the county and the state.

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