Construction began this summer on the first utility-scale wind farm in North Carolina, and one of the first in the southeastern U.S., the Amazon Wind Farm US East, powered by Iberdrola Renewables. This exciting development in rural northeastern North Carolina will deliver significant local economic benefits over the life of the project, starting with a huge boost for local companies and workers during construction. It will soon be the largest taxpayer in each of the two counties where it’s located, and combined with landowner lease payments, will inject more than $1.1 million into the local economy each year.
Yet, as the project has begun hiring people, contracting with local companies, and visibly moving earth in the agricultural community known locally as the “Desert,” questions have understandably arisen in the community. The good news is that the developer addressed the vast majority of these questions during the planning phase of this project, and anyone interested in the level of scrutiny this project underwent can review the minutes from numerous public hearings and meetings and the publicly available documents and permits obtained by the project. That might take a while, as thousands of pages of studies over five years at the local, state, and federal levels is a lot of reading, but more importantly, reflects sound science and public input.
Let’s take this opportunity to address a few concerns that seem to have bubbled up most often.
Cooperation with the Military
Department of Defense spokesperson Eric D. Badger, Maj, USAF, addressing concerns that the operation of the wind farm would negatively impact a particular radar installation in Virginia (“ROTHR”) put these questions to rest: “The Department of Defense (DoD) has concluded that the project, with site-specific stipulations defined in a written mitigation agreement between the developer and the DoD (the agreement, signed November 5, 2014, is available here: http://greenfleet.dodlive.mil/files/2015/07/20150717-Iberdrola-Atlantic-Wind-Agreement.pdf), is not expected to create an adverse impact on DoD’s readiness and operations. Recent studies have concluded that the project as currently scoped (104 turbines, compared to 158 in a prior proposal) will not degrade the ROTHR operation.”
My Electricity Bill
We seem to be hearing two contrary trains of thought of this – either, my bill is still going up, or, isn’t all the power going to Amazon anyway? Some people seem concerned that they’re either not directly benefitting from a clean, competitively-priced source of electricity, or that the electricity is somehow shipped away to consume elsewhere. Electricity markets are complex, but neither of these concerns is grounded in how these markets work. Even if Amazon Web Services weren’t involved, the wind farm’s electricity couldn’t raise your local rates; in fact, it might even lower them, and the power might still be “used” elsewhere.
There are retail and wholesale markets for electricity; homes and businesses buy in the retail market, power plants like this wind farm transact in the wholesale market. This part of North Carolina is part of wholesale power market called PJM (www.pjm.com), which includes all or parts of 13 states.
Electricity rates for home and businesses in this part of North Carolina are proposed by the local utility and approved by the North Carolina Utility Commission. The local utility either owns power plants or buys electricity they need from the wholesale market. Since the utility is not purchasing power from the Amazon Wind Farm US East, the wind farm is not counted in rates for retail electricity customers.
When you buy your groceries, you probably go to the local grocery store. Think of your electricity supplier like your grocery store: it doesn’t grow its own food or have its own food processing plants, rather it buys the groceries that it sells to you from wholesale food suppliers.
The electricity market now works in virtually the same way. Just because you have a power plant near you doesn’t mean that your electricity will necessarily be cheaper. Your electric supplier sets your rates based on a variety of factors, in part through buying power from the larger wholesale electricity market. In the case of this wind farm however, the local community does benefit from the jobs, taxes, and lease payments over the long-term.
Taxes – The project will pay a total of $520,000/year to Pasquotank and Perquimans counties, making it the largest taxpayer in each county. That number will increase each year.
Landowner payments – the project will pay $624,000/year to landowners and it will increase each year.
Construction Jobs – Approximately 250 workers over the roughly 18-month construction period will be in the community, paying rent, eating out, and shopping. Already, local companies from restaurants to hotels to gas stations to hardware stores to equipment rentals to gravel companies to engineers are hard at work supplying materials and services to the construction effort.
Permanent jobs – The completed wind farm will require approximately 14 on-site jobs in operations and maintenance of the facility.
To learn more about the Desert Wind project, click here: http://iberdrolarenewables.us/desertwind/index.html.