Renewable energy focus of Currituck Chamber meet

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Adam Forrer, Atlantic region manager of the Southeast Wind Coalition, speaks about the Amazon wind farm in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties at a gathering in Currituck County above renewable energy, Thursday.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, February 11, 2018

CURRITUCK – The Amazon Wind Farm US East is about a 45-minute drive from Barco, but the site was the focus of attention at an educational gathering on renewable energy last week.

The Currituck Chamber of Commerce, Currituck Cooperative Extension and the Currituck Democratic and Republican parties organized the gathering to present a panel of experts on solar and wind power. About 60 people attended the gathering, held at the extension center in Barco Thursday evening.

Adam Forrer, Atlantic region manager of the Raleigh-based Southeast Wind Coalition, gave a presentation featuring the Amazon wind farm, located in what's locally called the Desert areas of Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.

"There's a lot of good economic stories behind that project," Forrer said.

Forrer said his organization seeks to advance the wind industry and likes to talk about impacts in terms of jobs, payments to landowners and property tax revenues.

"This Amazon project really has a lot of those aspects to it," he said of the approximately $400 million private investment in rural northeastern North Carolina.

The wind farm is powered by Avangrid Renewables. Forrer recalled as the site was being constructed, Avangrid paid approximately $18 million locally for services and supplies and to hospitality establishments.

He went on to note there were about 150 full-time jobs in the midst of construction phase, and after the completion of the project 18 on-site jobs were filled for turbine technicians. He also noted those who work as turbine technicians are paid an average of $80,000 a year.

Avangrid, he also said, pays each landowner approximately $6,000 a year per turbine, with a lot of the landowners in this case being farmers. He emphasized such payments provide a financial buffer for farmers should they not experience a good crop year.

He said perhaps the most exciting part came when Avangrid last month presented ceremonial checks to the governments of Pasquotank and Perquimans, symbolizing the payments of property taxes. Perquimans received $380,000 and Pasquotank received $260,000.

Forrer told the gathering the Southeast Wind Coalition takes an objective and data-driven approach to wind energy and is also a regional resource center with the federal Energy Department.

"We're not a blind advocate for wind," he said. "We don't think that wind should go anywhere and everywhere."

Another panelist was Mark Fleming, director of the Raleigh-based Conservatives for Clean Energy. He said his organization seeks to promote energy efficiency, solar power and wind power, as well as conversations about renewable energy among those with politically conservative views in North Carolina.

Fleming said passage of N.C. House Bill 589 last summer to overhaul renewable energy policy was a politically conservative-led effort.

"From the perspective of our organization, was the bill perfect? No, it was not perfect," Fleming said. "There's no legislation that ever is, but did it move the ball forward? Absolutely."

Fleming said in his organization’s polling, some 600 registered voters in North Carolina were asked whether they would be more or less likely to support a lawmaker or a candidate who supports policies encouraging renewable energy options. He said 83 percent responded in the affirmative and noted anytime one sees such a response beyond 70 percent, that's evidence of strong support.

He said despite the current partisan divide, his organization’s focus on energy can help “bring folks together.”

Polling data showed that of those more likely to support a pro-solar and pro-wind candidate, 79 percent identified themselves as Republican and 86 percent identified themselves as Democrats, while 82 percent identified themselves as unaffiliated, Fleming said.

Jennifer Behr, a senior organizer with Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy, told the gathering there has been a nearly $20 billion economic impact from clean energy projects in North Carolina since 2007. She said clean energy is generating more than $1 million in state and local tax revenues, with 87 percent of this occurring in rural communities and historically economically challenged counties.

Behr also noted there were 34,000 people working full-time in the clean energy sector in North Carolina in 2016.

One of those attending Thursday's gathering was Rhonda Morris, director of the Elizabeth City-based Kids First. Morris, a Coinjock resident, she said she's all for renewable energy.

"I think that the more wind farms I see, the happier I'm going to be," she said with a smile.

Jerry Wright, who has property in the lower part of Currituck County, said he came to the gathering because he wanted factual details. He said he learned from the gathering a lot of renewable energy has already been put in place in North Carolina.

Although there's presently a moratorium on the establishment of new solar farms in Currituck County, he said he and his family receive inquiries from persons interested doing something with some of the land to generate renewable energy someday.

Wright overall is quite concerned about global warming.

"Being someone that's out on the water – and being around the water a lot – we just need to work to try and keep our water levels from going up too high with the way we live here in North Carolina, on the coast," he said.