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pennenergy.com | Michael Biesecker, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon says it disagrees with Republicans in North Carolina who claim a $400 million clean energy project slated to power data centers for Amazon.com Inc. poses a threat to national security.
State legislative leaders have asked the incoming Trump administration to either kill or require major changes to the nearly completed wind farm, which they said will interfere with the operation of a military radar installation that scans for aircraft and ships hundreds of miles out over the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean.
Rep. Walter Jones, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, also wrote to Trump’s choice to lead the Homeland Security Department last month to raise concerns about the project. The sprawling 20,000-acre facility in the congressman’s district includes 104 spinning wind turbines, each nearly as tall as a 50-story building.
The Navy told The Associated Press this week it had extensively studied the potential for interference with its Relocatable Over the Horizon Radar, or ROHTR, system just across the state line in Chesapeake, Virginia.
“The Navy is committed to working with developers to ensure that renewable energy projects are compatible with our mission and operations,” said Lt. Chika Onyekanne, a Navy spokesman. “While initial studies indicated a potential conflict between the Amazon wind project and the ROTHR, additional data collected since that time determined that the project is not likely to affect the mission.”
President-elect Donald Trump has long expressed opposition to wind turbines, tweeting about them more than 60 times over the years. Trump has battled the construction of an offshore wind project he says mars the view from his golf resort in Scotland. At a campaign rally in August, he criticized both solar panels and wind turbines, which he said pose a lethal threat to wildlife. “The wind kills all your birds. All your birds, killed. You know, the environmentalists never talk about that,” said Trump, who has pledged to bring back tens of thousands of coal mining jobs lost as utilities switch to cleaner ways to produce electricity.
Trump also has a beef with Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post. Trump has been highly critical of the Post’s coverage of his campaign, which included revealing a 2005 videotape in which Trump made disparaging remarks about women.
Representatives of the Trump transition team did not immediately respond Thursday to an email seeking comment.
The project is being constructed by Avangrid Renewables, a U.S. subsidiary of Spanish clean-energy giant Iberdrola S.A. Amazon has contracted to buy the full electrical output from the turbines, comparable to the power about 60,000 homes use in a year, to run its Virginia data centers. Avangrid spokesman Paul Copleman said Thursday the project is expected to come online by the end of the month.
A 2014 agreement between Avangrid and the Navy said there is potential for conflict between the wind farm and operation of the radar array, but that the Pentagon also seeks to enhance the country’s renewable energy resources. The agreement specified placement of the wind turbines and includes language that that the company would curtail operations “for a national security or defense purpose.”
In their letter to Trump DHS nominee John Kelly, North Carolina lawmakers claimed last month that the Pentagon dropped opposition to the wind farm because of the “political correctness” of outgoing President Barack Obama’s administration. Kelly, a retired Marine general, raised concerns about the placement of the wind farm in 2014, while serving as the head of U.S. Southern Command.
“In our opinion, due to the consequences at stake, this wind project should never have been permitted to be built,” says the letter signed by House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate Leader Phil Berger and eight others.
In asking that the wind project be permanently scraped, the Republicans also noted that the company that would be most harmed is foreign owned.
“No tears need to be shed for Iberdrola, which is the antithesis of the Make America Great again program,” they wrote.
Asked for response Thursday to the Navy’s statement, state Sen. Bill Cook said the group stood by their opposition to the project. “The fact is that no one, anywhere has had to deal with this type of interference on a ROTHR,” said Cook, whose district includes the wind farm. “It’s good that the Navy is optimistic, but it is speculative.”
According to his campaign webpage, Cook is a retired executive of Potomac Electric Power Co., a Washington-based utility heavily reliant on coal and natural gas.
January 20, 2017
Wind Watch (wind industry publication)
By Ilaria ValtimoraGrowing numbers of people are threatening to boycott Donald Trump’s inauguration this afternoon – celebrities, Democrats, R.Kelly – but we are not among them. We’re strangely excited because, as usual with Trump, there will be plenty to watch.
Indeed, the first days of his presidency could shape appetite for investment in US renewables for the next four years. This might look like a bold statement, but look at his in-tray.
Last week, ten North Carolina Republican lawmakers, including Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, sent a letter to the Trump administration to urge it to shut down a $400m nearly-complete wind farm located near Elizabeth City.
The 208MW, 104-turbine project is being developed by Avangrid Renewables, the US arm of Spanish utility Iberdrola, and Amazon has already committed to purchase the entire output produced by the wind farm to power its Virginia data centres. It would be the state’s first wind project, all the turbines have already been installed and it is now weeks away from completion.
However, according to the lawmakers, the wind farm would represent a threat to the national security as the turbines would interfere with a Navy’s long-range radar located in Chesapeake, Virginia. Avangrid has rejected that claim.
Paul Copleman, a spokesman for Avangrid, said that in 2014 the Navy agreed to let the project proceed after insisting on a reduced size of the project and smaller turbines. But, according to the lawmakers, the Pentagon gave green light to the scheme just because of the “political correctness” of the Obama administration. It is a strange accusation that wind is solely a ‘PC’ choice.
North Carolina Republican legislator Bob Steinburg, who did not sign the petition, said to Coastal Review Online, a North Carolina news service, that “the letter is less about the military and more about a long-running fight against renewables”.
And North Carolina is not the only US state fighting renewables.
Wyoming has also recently started its own battle against renewable energy. State legislators are seeking to stop utilities selling power generated by solar and wind to local residents. The plan is to protect the coal sector, as Wyoming is the US state with the largest coal production. It really wants to keep its first place.
Wyoming has already in place the only tax in the US, which charges $1 for each MWh of wind energy produced in the state.
Why is this important? Well, first of all, because both assaults on wind have started in the two weeks before Trump take office; and, more importantly, because there is a risk that these actions would damage investors’ confidence. If Trump was to revoke consent for a project nearing completion then it would do major damage to the confidence of investors in US wind, and infrastructure more widely.
This is already happening with Avangrid: “I think we look at this effort as a negative sign about doing business in North Carolina”, a spokesman has said. If Trump does what North Carolina Republicans want, then that negativity would surely spread.
Not that everyone thinks he will. Speaking at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos this week, Innogy’s chief executive Peter Terium said Trump could not deter investment in wind because “all the wind parks are being built locally, maintained locally and operated locally, so it really fits into the policy that he also has set to enhance local value creation”.
This gives autonomy to individual states to decide whether they want renewables or not. However, if more states begin to oppose renewables, that would help Trump build a case against a sector of which he has been heavily critical in the past. And, in that case, investors will turn their attention to other sectors or other countries.
Wind is getting cheaper but it still needs political support.
Of course, we could be worrying about nothing. Trump’s motto to ‘Make America Great Again’ could include the local value creation that comes with wind. Either way, his approach to North Carolina will tell us a lot about his approach to renewables. Investors should watch closely – even if it is through their normal-size fingers.
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