ELIZABETH CITY — Pasquotank County public officials learned in February that they will receive a $9 million grant from the Golden LEAF foundation to build the Amazon Wind Farm Welcome Center and Bird Sanctuary Headquarters adjacent to the recently completed wind project. The total project budget is $9.2 million, with the county and the wind farm developer each kicking in $100,000. The center will be located on a 10-acre site off U.S. 17 Bypass northeast of Elizabeth City near the state prison.
The wind project consists of 104 wind turbines, each nearly 500 feet from the ground to the blade tips. It is owned and operated by Avangrid, a subsidiary of the Spanish energy company Iberdrola. Amazon bought the naming rights to the electricity in hopes of convincing customers and the public that it is an environmentally responsible green company.
The county applied for the grant last year after a $500,000 study also funded by Golden LEAF predicted a significant increase in tourism linked to the wind power project.
The General Assembly created Golden LEAF as an entity to receive some of the settlement funds from the multistate lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers. From those funds the foundation makes economic development grants to nonprofits and government entities.
Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach told Carolina Journal that some of his board members were concerned about the nature and size of this grant. “It’s a lot of money. But frankly, after giving out money for the last 16 years, we are running out of legitimate projects to fund so we have had to make awards to some riskier ones. But I do hope this succeeds,” he said. “I also thought it was a clever idea to show some concern for birds that may be at risk.”
Plans call for a 28,000-square-foot building that features a 60-foot tall, fully enclosed observation tower accessed by two elevators. The center will have a full-service restaurant, bar, gift shop, and educational auditorium.
Due to the intermittent and unreliable nature of wind generated electricity, the center will not be connected to the wind farm. It will receive service from the Albemarle Electric Membership Corp.
Elizabeth City is already a designated bird sanctuary, which — by state law — makes it illegal to hunt, kill, trap, or otherwise take any protected birds within the city limits. Local officials expressed relief that the sanctuary designation will enhance the safety of birds that fly near the turbines.
The Golden LEAF grant is contingent on expanding the sanctuary to cover the 22,000 acres encompassing the wind farm, some of which is in neighboring Perquimans County. The boards of commissioners in both Pasquotank and Perquimans counties will need to pass ordinances adding the Amazon Wind Farm land to the Elizabeth City bird sanctuary.
Arrangements also will need to be made with the nearby Pasquotank Correctional Institution to make sure visitors at the observation tower do not violate the privacy of the inmates or use the tower to communicate with inmates and organize escapes.
As a condition of participation by Amazon and Avangrid, the state law establishing bird sanctuaries also will need to be amended so that the city, each county, Avangrid, and Amazon cannot be held responsible for any and all fatalities occurring when birds strike the turbines.
Parting Shot is a parody loosely based on events in the news. This parody was published in the March 2017 print edition of Carolina Journal.