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Legislators’ hot air puts brakes on wind farms

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Counties in northeastern North Carolina are making real progress in developing wind energy. Unfortunately, the Republicans who control the state legislature are doing all they can to put the brakes on that progress.

Pasquotank and Perquimans counties are home to the Amazon Wind Farm, with 104 turbines capable of powering 61,000 homes. The developer of that wind farm is working on plans to develop an offshore wind project near Kitty Hawk.

This should be good news for North Carolina and beyond. It makes sense for the United States to develop green energy rather than relying heavily on carbon-based fuels. The supplies of coal, oil and gas are dwindling fast, and burning them is polluting our air and contributing to climate change, with all its bad effects.

For the people in the rural, poor areas in the northeastern part of the state, green energy projects can be a real boon. Farmers get needed income by leasing some of their land to wind farms and solar farms. Often, those leases make it possible for the farmers to continue farming rather than selling their land for development. And the energy projects mean jobs for some local people.

But Republican legislators keep trying to block development of wind farms.

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the state Senate to ban wind farms permanently in areas where they might be in conflict with military bases. When that bill stalled, it was rewritten as a three-year moratorium on new wind energy projects. That bill recently passed the Senate, but legislators were already saying they would probably rewrite it yet again.

The sponsors call the bill the Military Base Protection Act. They say they are trying to make sure that wind turbines don’t cause problems in flight paths around military bases. They talk about interfering with national security, as well as putting military bases in North Carolina in jeopardy if there is another round of base closings. Opponents of wind farms have also said the ones in northeastern North Carolina might interfere with military radar just across the state line in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

But the Pentagon has said more than once that the wind farms pose no threat to national security. The military has a process in place for reviewing wind farm proposals and recommending any needed changes, and it’s handling it just fine without this kind of help from North Carolina’s legislators.

The Pentagon also has other, bigger-picture worries. Sea-level rise related to climate change is a real threat to national security at Navy and military bases along the Virginia and North Carolina coasts, for example, and the military is working to move away from heavy dependence on fossil fuels. Green energy development can help.

Some of the same legislators who are so opposed to wind farms have been supporters of the fossil fuel industry.

On the federal level, the Trump administration is pushing coal and fossil fuels and doing little or nothing to promote clean energy.

The battle over wind energy has moved largely into the states.

A three-year moratorium on new wind energy projects in North Carolina could be almost as devastating to the promising new industry as an outright ban. Companies will look to other, more welcoming states rather than waiting to see what happens here.

Once again, North Carolina’s legislators will be dragging the state back into the past, at the expense of us all.

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