Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, is convinced large wind energy projects, such as the Amazon Wind Farm near Elizabeth City, hinder the military’s ability to conduct low-level flight training missions in North Carolina. He also thinks construction of new wind facilities could hurt the state in a future Base Realignment and Closing process.

Brown and others concerned about the compatibility of industrial-scale wind projects and military training say they recently got vindication from the Department of Defense. The director of the DoD’s Siting Clearinghouse in Washington, D.C., which reviews and comments on proposed wind projects near military bases, said the clearinghouse has no influence on the BRAC process. The Pentagon could decide to close a base even if a nearby wind project had been approved by the clearinghouse.

Brown’s Senate Bill 377, the Military Base Protection Act, would try to block wind-energy encroachment on military facilities. It bans new wind energy projects shown on a map authorized by the General Assembly and developed with military officials.

The district represented by Sen. Jim Perry, R-Wayne, includes Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Perry recently asked Clearinghouse Executive Director Ronald Tickle “whether it is accurate that clearinghouse approval of a project does not protect a military base from closure.”

Tickle said Perry is correct. “Our Clearinghouse reviews do not explicitly address a potential future [base closure proceeding]. We assess proposed wind farms based on current and reasonably foreseeable missions,” Tickle said.

“Now that the DoD Clearinghouse has weighed in, it is clear that Senator Brown’s concern is correct — the military will close bases regardless of whether the clearinghouse approves wind projects, and the risk of closure does not factor into clearinghouse decisions,” said a press release Tuesday from Perry and Sen. Jim Burgin, R-Harnett.

“This isn’t about being ‘anti-wind.’ We would love to see wind energy grow in North Carolina and elsewhere. But it can’t grow at the expense of the safety and security of North Carolina’s military bases. The military is the second-largest employer in North Carolina and contributes tens of billions of dollars to our economy every single year. We have to adopt policies that minimize the risk of those bases closing down, and we are willing to continue listening to stakeholders on how best to protect the military and provide opportunities for wind development,” Perry and Burgin said.

Current state law requires wind energy developers to seek a permit from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. The permitting process requires review and comment from the commanding officer of each nearby major military installation as well as the Federal Aviation Administration.

Seymour Johnson operations staff raised concerns about potential wind turbine interference with low-altitude flight training in a September 2012 report.

House Bill 589, passed in 2017, imposed a moratorium through Dec. 31, 2018, on permits for wind energy facilities. It also called for the General Assembly to conduct a study and produce maps showing the military’s land, air, and water-based operations in North Carolina. Brown’s bill references those maps.

The bill received a received a favorable ruling May 5 from the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee, and then it was referred to the Senate Rules Committee. It didn’t pass the full Senate before the crossover deadline, but the bill isn’t dead. “We are having conversations about the legislation and expect to make a few changes. The bill will comply with crossover deadline rules,” Brown told CJ.

Opponents continue to question the need for the legislation. Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, sits on the Commerce and Insurance Committee. He says Brown’s bill isn’t necessary, and the new information Perry shared hasn’t changed McKissick’s mind.

“This did not sway me. When I read the press release I don’t conclude the clearinghouse is not effective. They have a rigorous review process. The BRAC is a separate process,” he said.

Previous discussions

In April, retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gary McKissock told a legislative committee wind energy projects and other encroachments could put North Carolina military bases at risk of closing during a future round of the BRAC process.  

Col. Donn Yates, commander, 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, told the committee additional encroachments would make it difficult to complete the base’s mission. He said his responsibilities include providing 48 new two-person fighter crews each year. The crews need to fly F-15E aircraft day or night at 500 feet or lower. “To get them to that proficiency requires hundreds of sorties per year for those 48 crews,” he said.

He said he is able to carry out that mission now, but additional encroachments would cause problems for his training resources. They include “bombing ranges, low altitude areas to transit to those ranges and the air space above them.” The Navy operates a large bombing range in Hyde County.

Two other retired officers said current safeguards protect military bases from the potential negative effects of new wind farms. The Amazon Wind Farm is North Carolina’s only utility-scale wind energy project.

Editor’s note: This story was edited after initial publication to attribute statements about the DoD clearinghouse to Sen. Perry.