Raleigh Legislature backs off wind power ban

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - State lawmakers held off voting on a proposal to ban wind power development in the mountains of western North Carolina.

The delay was met with relief by wind power advocates who harbor dreams of wind turbines in the Appalachian Mountains, home to some of the best wind energy resources in the nation.

The chief sponsor of the proposal, Sen. Charles Albertson, said the proposed ban generated opposition from supporters of wind power, a clean form of energy that doesn't generate air pollution or greenhouse gases.

"We heard from a lot of people from the mountains who supported the bill in its original form," said Albertson, a Democrat who represents Duplin, Lenoir and Sampson counties in the southeastern part of the state. He was referring to an earlier form of the proposal that would have permitted wind turbines in the mountains as long as they didn't obstruct views from the Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail and other tourist areas.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources did approve another part of the wind energy proposal that would regulate wind power development on the coast. The proposal comes with restrictions and conditions to protect wildlife, tourism and recreation.

The proposed ban on mountain wind development would have barred the harnessing of nearly 800 megawatts of wind energy, a capacity equivalent to a mid-size nuclear power plant.

Average wind speeds in the Appalachians are as high as 25 mph, among the strongest wind currents in the nation. On the coast, wind speeds can average 15 mph and 20 mph off shore. By contrast, Raleigh's wind speeds average about 9 mph, considered inadequate for commercial-scale wind projects.

Wind energy and other renewable resources will be required for the state's electric utilities to meet requirements in a 2007 law to obtain 12.5 percent of the electricity they sell by 2021 from renewables and conservation programs.

Progress Energy and Duke Energy have made progress developing solar energy projects, but wind power to date has been too controversial to attempt to develop in the mountains and in coastal areas, the only parts of the state with sufficient wind energy resources for commercial-scale development.



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