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Closer look at conflict balancing wind energy and military interests

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Across the country, more and more companies are honing into eastern North Carolina as a place to develop wind energy.

Wind energy has grown so much over the years that the U.S. is now capable of powering 12 million homes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. But clean energy companies come into conflict when they try to build too close to military bases.

"We had a company come, and wanted—they had a proposal. ‘We have a proposal to put 10 wind turbines upon Camp Lejeune. Here's a place we have identified. What do you think?' Oh my goodness. That would have been a bad thing," said David Plummer, regional airspace coordinator for Marine Corps Installations East.

Since 2009, 30 to 35 different energy companies have approached MCIEast saying they wanted to build wind farms near base, said Plummer, including Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, MCAS New River, and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"In reference to the 30 to 35 companies, we've said to them, ‘Hey, listen folks. By looking at what we expect to have happen here, this place is where your stuff is going to be a problem for us,'" said Plummer.

Wind farms can potentially cause deadly collisions between military aircraft and turbines during training missions, said Plummer.

"Each of these missions relies upon that ATC radar, and to the degree it's degraded, so too are those missions threatened," he said.

Balancing clean energy and national security interests can be tricky. But Plummer says almost all the companies he's talked with have been responsive to military concerns.

"All but one are two have decided, ‘You know what? We understand what's going on. Thank you very much for your time. We're going to seek other areas,'" he said.

Those one or two other companies have entered into a mitigation process to find a way to reduce the impact of wind turbines on training missions, said Plummer. It's a conversation the military will likely keep having as the demand for clean energy grows.

At least seven wind projects are in the works for the East, sources say. Two already have permits from the North Carolina Utilities Commission, including the Pantego wind project in Beaufort County by Chicago-based energy company Invenergy, and the Atlantic Wind project by Spain-based company Iberdrola, said Sam Watson, general counsel for the Utilities Commission.

Experts say clean energy companies are attracted to our region because of its high wind potential, being so close to the coast. And the state's generous tax credit policy makes it easier to pay for those projects.

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