Where is Beaufort County's new Wind Farm ordinance?
There is an unfinished piece of business from Beaufort County's now expired wind and solar farm moratorium. While an updated solar ordinance was adopted, nothing was ever done on a wind farm ordinance, and that is probably the more pressing of the two, given the public liability, human health, and environmental damage risks of wind farms.
The problems posed by wind farms are getting attention around the world. Just last month, the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate shelved Norway's national wind power development framework and announced that they would be tightening licensing requirements and environmental standards for wind turbines. They also announced that Norway is exiting the green credits scheme it has jointly operated with Sweden. That will end government subsidies for wind farms in Norway..
Earlier this year, Poland went even farther. Its conservative government enacted new rules to make it almost impossible to erect a new wind turbine, and ordered all existing wind turbines to be completely removed by 2030. The newly elected Conservative government of Canada's most populous province, Ontario, acted earlier this year to cancel over 900 wind and solar projects that were in the pipeline seeking permits and to repeal its Green Energy Act that had provided subsidies for wind and solar. Germany's largest and most conservative state, Bavaria, has also increased the setback for wind turbines from occupied buildings under its new "10H" rule, creating a setback of ten times the height of the turbine.
In other coutnries the human health risks and environmental damage of wind turbines has been the primary focus of efforts to crack down on wind farms but in the United States the public liability risks of wind farms also create a huge concern. That stems from the way wind (and solar) farms are structured in the United States.
Unlike a normal gas, coal, nuclear, or hydro power plant, which is titled in the name of the utility company, which is then liable for any environmental cleanup, wind and solar power facitilies are organized on a fly-by-night scheme. Each wind or colar farm is organized as a separate limited liability company (LLC), which leases rather than owns the land. Their only assets are the wind turbines themselves, and when they have no value, there are no assets left to pay for environmental cleanup. On top of that, once all the government subsidies for building the facility are collected, the LLC which built the wind farm almost always, transfers it to another LLC to continue operating it, and they are sometimes subsequently transferred multiple times.
The cost of decommisioning a wind farm can be enormous. According to recent documents filed with the Minnestota Public Utilities Commission, the cost of decommissioning a single wind turbine is $532,000, and that does not even cover full removal. For a wind farm with twenty turbines, which would be a small one, that is over $10 million. Who is this cost going to fall on if the LLC with the responsibility for removal has no real assets? The landowner? The government?
Further, the cost is likely to go up. Finding landfills that can accept the huge and often toxic blades of wind turbines has become a challenge in Germany which started its drive for wind and solar before the United States, and is now starting to impact Midwestern US states. The useful life of a wind turbine is claimed to be 25 years, but in reality often proves to be 10 to 15 years.
The need for environmental cleanup of a wind turbine can also hit much earlier than when it wears out. The fluids used as lubricants on a wind turbine are both highly flamable and highly toxic, containing carcinogenic PCBs. There have been hundreds of cases of wind turbines catching fire, raining burning fluids, and molten plastic and metals on the ground below and downwind.
In North Carolina, another drawback of having a wind (or solar) project in your county is the unfunded mandate placed by legislative Democrats in SB4 some years ago. Under that unfunded mandate, wind and solar energy companies are exempt from 85% of county property taxes, meaning that other county taxpayers have to make up the difference for what the wind and solar companies, usually backed by wealthy and often out of state entities, should have paid into the county budget.
The human health dangers posed by wind turbines has gained more attention recently. These stem from several sources, the audible noise constantly produced in operation, the flicker effect on lighting, and most damaging of all, the infrasound they produce, which cannot be detected by the human ear but has wideranging damaging impacts on the human body. Indeed, the negative effects of imfrasound on people has led at least four countries, including the United States, to research using it as a weapon of war.
Among the health risks from exposure to infrasound from wind turbines are sleep disorders, stress, loss of cognitive function, and cardio-vascular disease. The World Health Organization identified wind turbines as a significant threat to human health in its "Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region" issued in 2018. In January 2019, Finland's Environmental Health Agency released a study that showed that the negative impacts on human health from a wind turbine did not even start to diminish until a person was 15 kilometers (about 9 miles) from the turbine. A month later, Germany's respected Max Planck Institute released another study that put that distance at 20 kilometers.
Human health can also be severely impacted by wind turbines in other ways. One example is the pollution of groundwater by construction of wind turbines in the Charham-Kent district of the Canadian province of Ontario. In construction of the massive underground anchors for wind turbines there, hazardous substances contained in rock formations were disturbed and entered the groundwater. Local authorities warned that the groundwater was so toxic as a result that it was unsafe to bathe in, much less drink or use for cooking. All four wind energy companies operating in Chatham-Kent have now been criminally indicted on muliple felony counts of discharging hazardous substances into the groundwater.
In Germany, construction of new wind turbines has virtually ground to a halt with only 35 built in the last six months in the entire country, a period when hundreds of turbines wore out and were retired. The reason is that almost every time a wind farm project is proposed, a lawsuit is filed to stop it and they usually succeed. While human health risks are a growing basis for those lawsuits, the majority of them are still being filed by environmental organizations which challenge the wind farm projects based on deforestation, loss of wildlife habitat, and the slaughter of birds, bats, and insects by wind turbines.
One of the most authoritative studies on the slaughter of birds and bats by wind turbines was conducted in 2012 by the Spanish Orthinological Society, based on actual carcass counts at 136 monitoring sites around Spain. The study concluded that Spain's wind turbines were killing a minimum of 6 million birds and bats every year. In the United States, authorities long looked the other way on bird and bat kills by wind turbines, until Duke Energy finally got hit with a large fine for killing a bunch of eagles. That led the Obama administration to issue a rule allowing each wind farm in the US to kill up to 4,200 eagles without penalty, and that is just eagles, not other birds. They still just look the other way on them.
The impact of wind turbines on insects, including beneficial insects such as bees, is also immense. A 2019 study by the Energy Systems Analysis Department of the German Aerospace Institute found that wind turbines in Germany were killing 1,200 metric tons of insects per year, driving some species toward extinction.
Under North Carolina law, Beaufort County is given authority to enact a local wind farm ordinance that could protect citizens and taxpayers from many of these problems. Requiring a decommissioning bond is allowed and would insure that funds are available to remove the wind turbines when their useful life is over. The county is also allowed to establish setbacks from occupied buildings, and a meaningful setback should be established to protect human health. Protecting against some of the environmental harms may require more creativity. The real question is why is our county commission dragging its feet on this?