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 email@example.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.