NEWPORT — A Texas-based company planning a hybrid renewable energy facility with wind turbines and solar panels east of town let state officials know about its proposal months ago.

Torch Renewable Energy LLC of Houston is proposing to build 50 wind energy turbines on 7,250 acres of land between the corporate limits of Newport and Mill Pond on property it plans to lease from the Weyerhaeuser paper company. The company, which must secure state and local permits, first made its proposal to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources in July,  Newport staff wasn’t made aware of it until late August.  

Bob Chambers, town planner, said at a joint planning board and council meeting Oct. 21 the proposed facility will also have a 50-75 acre solar panel farm between Little Deep Creek and Little Deep Creek Road.

While Torch Renewable Energy is working on its permit with the state, the town staff and council are also working on a tall structure ordinance to place restrictions and measures in place to ensure the facility doesn’t impact surrounding land, the environment, public health or local military operations. The planning board has recommended the council pass its draft ordinance at its Nov. 14 regular council meeting.

Both Mr. Chambers and Tim White, interim town manager, have stressed the information the town staff has received isn’t a definite, finalized plan. The town was informed of the project Aug. 23, when DENR sent an email, announcing a public scoping meeting on the project will be held to discuss the project before Torch Renewable Energy applied for a state permit.

This meeting is scheduled for Tuesday in Wilmington, but due to the size of the meeting space, DENR Environmental Assistance Coordinator Cameron Weaver said in the email they’re limiting attendance to agencies needing representation.

Mr. Chambers said Tuesday information he’s received about the proposed facility is unclear and lacking details. He said a scoping meeting at this point seems premature.

“We need to review the information for at least a couple weeks before we have a meeting,” he said.

Records the News-Times obtained from town hall show Torch Renewable Energy sent DENR a permit pre-application package, as the department requested, on July 30. The company said in that information that because the project is still in the planning and permitting phases, the details provided were preliminary and for discussion purposes only.

Torch Renewable Energy is proposing to build 50 Vestas V110-2.0 turbines at the project site. This model of turbine has a maximum total height of 492.1 feet. The facility, if built, could accommodate up to about 100 megawatts of electricity by wind energy and up to 20 megawatts through its solar farm. The facility would also have a 230 kilovolt electrical substation with a main power transformer, along with a operations and maintenance facility.

Torch Renewable Energy has begun looking into potential impacts the facility could have. According to the pre-application package, it’s actively engaged Capitol Airspace Group to identify any potential impacts on air navigation routes or other nearby military operations. The LLC also requested a preliminary review and comment on the proposal from the Department Of Defense Clearinghouse, especially with respect to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. The request was made July 15 and the company will inform DENR once the results are in.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told Torch Renewable Energy there are two federally listed inland species in Carteret County: the red cockaded woodpecker and the rough-leaved loosestrife (a plant). However, the LLC said based on its preliminary studies, its land holdings are outside known or suspected habitat for both species.

Torch Renewable Energy commissioned Kimley-Hort and Associates Inc. in 2012 to research potential environmental constraints and risks associated with their project site. K-H’s report, which will be provided at the scoping meeting, concluded that impacts from the project were avoidable and presented few environmental constraints.

Included in the pre-application package was a tentative schedule for the project. Torch Renewable Energy expects to have an interconnection agreement for the project by this December, while permitting is expected to take until August 2014. Construction would begin in January 2015, commissioning would take from October 2015 through December 2015, and commercial operations would begin Dec. 31, 2015.

According to the company website, torchwind.com, Torch Renewable Energy is a subsidiary of Torch Energy Advisors Inc., a diversified energy company that operates oil and gas properties, gas pipelines and processing facilities, oil and gas services businesses and renewable energy projects. The parent company provides all of the LLC’s funding.

Both Torch Energy Advisors and Jonathan Kilbert, president of Torch Renewable Energy, have been active in national politics. According to search results from The Center for Responsive Politics website, www.opensecrets.org, the company was a registered political action committee in 1998, when it provided $1,000 each to Rep. Rudy Izzard, R-Texas; Sen. Matt Fong, R-Calif.; and Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. In 2000, the company provided $1,000 each to Rep. Michael Stoker, R-Calif., and Sen. Kay Hutchinson, R-Texas. The company terminated its status as a PAC in January 2003.

Mr. Kilberg also provided a campaign contribution in the 2012 presidential election. On Oct. 12, 2012, he gave $2,500 to then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign.

News-Times staff attempted to contact Torch Renewable Energy for direct comment. However, no one from the company was available before press time.  

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

(29) comments

Osprey

red cockaded woodpecker and the rough-leaved loosestrife.

say no more.

David Collins

Vestas, of Denmark, exists on the back of Govt. subsidies. When they dried up, so did Vestas. Subsidies are back and like the phoenix, so is Vestas. I guess the US manufactures don't make good enough stuff. This is sounding a bit like Solyndra and Fisker with a Nordic twist. Nordic blondes are really hot.

Yup, that darned woodpecker has been the death of many a dream and scheme.

Carolina Gal

The ordinance that Newport has drafted is inadequate at protecting adjoining property owners! Their minimum setback recommendation is 1300'. This would put an Industrial Scale Wind Turbine that looms 492' into the air only about 3.5 football fields from adjoining landowners and their homes! This particular turbine, at 492' tall, is like stacking 3 Cape Lookout Lighthouses on top of each other, that is how tall it would be. As far as the rotor diameter, if you were to lay them on ground, from tip to tip they would span the length of a football field. Can you imagine living next to that? I pray for the sake of Newport and Carteret County this does not make it through the permitting process. And everyone who is for cleaner energy needs to realize that it may be cleaner but it is not cheaper. Among the states with renewable mandates in place (requiring a certain percentage of the energy to come from a renewable resource by a certain date) consumers pay an average 38% more for electricity. If renewable energy was such a great thing we would not need to subsidize it, the private sector would be all over it.

David Collins

Carolina Gal, you have done your homework and you get it. These turbines have several other issues that might be a little bit inconvenient but you get it.

LifeTimeNewporter

Oh joy green power?

dc

Carolina Gal's last sentence is all that needs saying.

David Collins

The only thing green about green power is the green going out of your wallet.

Carolina Gal

Yes Francis, they have many other issues: noise, shadow flicker, impact on local military operations, environmental impacts ( bird kills, etc.), property value impacts, etc. Inconvenient is when I have to go to another store because the first store is out of something. This is way beyond inconvenient!!

David Collins

Our fearless great exalted leader had decreed that we will double down on Green Energy. Obama Care for electric meters one might say. With the power of the White House pushing forward on this misguided quest, how can it be resisted by mere mortals ? Don't feel for a minute anyone cares if it works, just that we have it.

The white house installed a $30,000 solar hot water system. it didn't work. Pelosi said they were going to be carbon neutral. Couldn't make it happen even when they purchased carbon credits.To this day, the complex is heated by steam with fossil fueled boilers. Yeah Pres, you show us little people the way. Hypocrite ! We give you everything and we get garbage.

Carolina Gal

The next Newport town council meeting is November 14 at 6:00pm. They will have a public hearing on their "revised" tall structure ordinance. Newport residents need to attend this meeting!

David Collins

Just read an article in the Economist that China has entered into a joint contract in the UK to build a nuclear power plant. Isn't Europe where the Green Energy movement really took off? There is plenty of wind in the UK so wonder what happened ? Perhaps reliability and a constant supply of electricity really does matter.

inthemiddle

OH NO!!!! NOT IN MY BACKYARD!!!

David Collins

Read a couple of interesting articles today on this subject. Never thought I would hear this from them.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/06/opinion/pandora-nuclear-energy-opinion-robert-stone/index.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medi

http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/03/world/nuclear-energy-climate-change-scientists/index.html?iid=article_sidebar

Sadly, this utopian fantasy with solar and wind may have run it's course. Gosh, it sounded so good. Reality, is often a tough nut but reality is what it is. Believe what you wish but nothing is truly free.

inthemiddle

Yes solar and wind power are far from perfect, and from an environmentalist standpoint solar panels are absolutely atrocious in what goes into making them. However, if our country wishes to gain energy independence without several oil spills and leaky pipelines running through prime agricultural landscape, then we need to come up with alternative forms of energy that actually make sense. Ethanol was/is a disaster that was a way for the government to rationalize the outrageous agriculture subsidies. The argument that green energy doesn't deserve subsidies is a bit ridiculous, if that's true then why do oil companies and agriculture giants deserve them? Oh I know, so people can enjoy a seventy two ounce soft drink for fifty cents.

all4wind

Iowa gets 20% of its electricity from wind. Get the facts from people who have wind farms in their back yard. http://www.iowawindenergy.org/whywind.php

Carolina Gal

Well all4wind , no wonder the people of Iowa give Wind farms a high approval rating, the " more than $16 million dollars paid annually in lease payments" to landowners must keep them happy happy happy! They CHOOSE to have this " in their backyard"'. I will get my facts from the people who have them in their backyard and do not profit from it.

David Collins

There are more people signed up for Obama Care than live in Iowa. 20% would be like 35 or 40, 100 watt light bulbs with half turned off. Areas with high population and load demand require a much more robust, reliable and clean delivery system. No brown outs, spikes and surges that eat transformers for lunch and all next in line for dinner. You want to get back to nature, give it a go. Winter is on the way and the hind parts you freeze should be your own.

David Collins

Just for grins I Googled " wind turbine tornado damage" Quite a lot of info and neat pictures. Made me wonder what would happen if one or more over spun, caught fire and fell in the forest during a strong storm. Each one carries a few hundred gallons of lube oil inside. Might not be so good for the forest or anyone living near by. Don't think it can happen, if so then where did the pictures come from ? Looks to me that it has already happened and seeing how they will be the tallest structures, after radio towers, lightning does really bad things to electrical components. You won't fix that puppy on a 2 hour service call. Might consider working to make what we have cleaner and more efficient along with beefing up the infrastructure.

Carolina Gal , any idea where the $16 million in lease payments came from ?

Carolina Gal

I was quoting the website all4wind posted-http:www.iowawindenergy.org/whywind.php
I assume those lease payments were paid by the developer/owners of the wind farm? Those people chose to have the turbines on their own land. The proposed project for Newport is on land owned by Weyerhauser. This land has been leased from Weyerhauser for the last 30 or more years by the local hunting club. Now they will lease it to the developer/owners of this project. The landowners and developers are not local residents. They will not live in the shadow of these things or be affected by them.

David Collins

Absentee owners that won't really care ? I suspect the DOE's green initiative pays the lease, in other words, taxpayers. The same folks that will be involved in Newport area. Just like the ACA, it doesn't have to work but we must have it.

inthemiddle

They're not as loud as many portray them to be, and far less dangerous to the environment than fossil fuels. Sounds like someone is scared of something they don't understand...

David Collins

inthemiddle, It is more like scared of yet another Govt. mandated thing, forced upon us. Don't worry, everything will be just fine, you will love it. Sound familiar? Best of all is that the developer is guaranteed to be allowed to sell what is produced to the electric company for a yet undetermined rate. Historically power bills to the public have increased around 38%. Europe is dealing with this right now and returning to what works. France is in the best shape. They went nuclear, stayed with it and have the fewest problems, other than being French.

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100227983/
Might wish to read this one but there are plenty more about. You really don't want to be sold yet another bill of goods.

inthemiddle

Nuclear energy is obviously the most efficient and cost effective form of energy, but along with that it is also the most dangerous. Have you seen what Fukushima has done to the Pacific Ocean? Until we can find a way to properly dispose of the spent nuclear rods (no, burying them in Wyoming doesn't count as safe), it is not wise to make it a widespread form of energy. The most efficient, environmentally sound, long term plan is renewable energy. Solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal energy is just the tip of the iceberg.

David Collins

It's early, did the Pacific Ocean dry up last night ? Everything we do has risk and if the fuel rods are truly spent, why are they dangerous ? Recycle, recycle or sell them to Iran. That will end all of our problems.

Keep working on those renewables and let us know when it has been perfected. I understand that the wind turbine in Morehead is now kaput. Hope it is still under warranty . We will miss all the electricity it generated.

inthemiddle

If you have to ask why spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants are dangerous then you honestly have no idea how the system really works. Ever heard of Yucca Mountain? Look it up. You keep saying why don't we keep using what works, well using what "works" isn't truly working. Our oil corporations are destroying communities across seas and our government is starting wars based on getting to fuel sources. We talk about being energy dependent then we want to drill off of our own shores so we can have several oil spills like the BP disaster every year killing off any kind of fishing and tourism industry along our coastlines. There is cause and effect and sometimes you need to look a little deeper into the true cost of your energy source whether it be gasoline (drilling) or the worst of all electricity (mountaintop removal mining).

David Collins

inthemiddle, you fell for it, dude.

There is a place called the Philippines that is pretty well wiped clean at this moment. Now would be an opportune time to go there and establish your utopian fantasy.. Might want to bring a few energy bars with you.

inthemiddle

Hmmm no I think I'm ok. I'd rather just sit on my a** and watch fox news all day while eating huge cheeseburgers and smoking my cigarettes, maybe have a few mountain dews and beers while I'm at it. I like to get myself all worked up about what those darn liberals are doing to ruin my country and take all my stuff.

David Collins

OK !

ncsmh03

inthemiddle seems to be capable of nothing more than making snide, emotionally charged comments on this topic (not just here, but in other articles on this topic). For someone who expects us to respect the authority of their educational background, they do not seem willing to engage in a well-reasoned discussion.

inthemiddle, I sincerely suggest you stop attempting to embroil this issue with condescending remarks, and attempt to find commonality with your neighbors. This dialogue is not about NIMBYism or about being anti-"renewable" energy - its about promoting ordinance language that offers measures of protection for Carteret County residences who MAY find themselves in the vicinity of wind energy projects. As with ANY industrial-scale project, the cons come with the pros, and those areas of concern should be addressed. It's irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

I think we can all agree that ordinances that promote responsible development, be it wind energy or any other industry, serves the best interests of this community. We can "agree to disagree" on some topics and work for the well-being of our home.

Can you offer up any constructive reasons why the ordinances set in place by Carteret County and by the Town of Newport should NOT be in place? Does the "greater good" trump the health, well-being, and economic strength of your community?

Welcome to the discussion.

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