NEWPORT — With a proposal to build a wind and solar energy facility near this town before the state, a retired physicist from Emerald Isle is cautioning people he believes wind energy isn’t a good source of electric power.
John Droz Jr. held a public forum Tuesday night at Fort Benjamin Park to share his findings and opinions on wind energy at the potential impact of Torch Renewable Energy LLC of Houston’s proposed wind and solar energy facility.
More than 100 people attended, including Carteret County Commissioner Bill Smith, Carteret County Commissioner Elaine Crittenton, Newport Town Planner Bob Chambers and State Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, who also serves Carteret County.
Mr. Droz said his main objective Tuesday night was to get people thinking. He said while he knows a lot about environmental energy issues, he doesn’t know everything.
“My main concern is our state energy policies aren’t based on science,” he said, “but on lobbying from people with political and financial motivation.”
Wind energy has become a major issue in Carteret County since Torch Renewable Energy proposed to build a hybrid renewable energy facility to the east of the Newport corporate limits on 7,150 acres owned by the Weyerhaeuser Co. and a private owner. The facility will have 40, nearly 500-foot-tall wind turbines between Newport and Mill Pond, as well as a 50-75 acre solar panel farm between Little Deep Creek and Little Deep Creek Road.
Mr. Droz compared wind energy proponents to historic snake oil salesmen, saying they’re very good at convincing people that wind energy is an energy source that has no faults or drawbacks.
“Today, with the Internet, it’s easier than ever to spread misinformation,” he said.
Mr. Droz said one of his primary issues with wind energy is his research shows it doesn’t “deliver the goods.” He said wind energy turbines have a capacity value – the ability to be available on demand – less than 10 percent.
“Because of this profound technical difficulty,” Mr. Droz said, “wind energy must be augmented, usually by gas.”
Mr. Droz also said wind energy isn’t completely “green,” i.e. without any environmental impact. He said rare earth elements are used in the production of wind energy turbines, and that the process of building them destroys vegetation, produces air pollution and even radioactive waste.
“A more important matter is human health,” Mr. Droz said. “Dozens of human health studies show that wind energy causes many health risks.”
Ms. Crittenton backed up Mr. Droz’s statement about the concern of health risks. She said after his presentation that not enough information has been brought out about the decibel level and frequencies of noise created by wind turbines.
Looking at the Torch Renewable Energy project specifically, Mr. Droz said one of the biggest concerns was over potential impacts to local military operations at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.
The potential visual impact of the Torch Renewable Energy project was also brought up. Mr. Droz presented several photographs he’d taken of the surrounding area near the proposed project, then had turbines of the size being considered by the company digitally inserted. In each illustration, the turbines were clearly visible.
North Carolina currently regulates wind energy facilities through H.B. 484, which requires all wind energy facilities to get a siting permit from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. However, Mr. Droz said this law has “many loopholes.”
“How DENR interprets these loopholes remains to be seen,” he said, “but it’s not looking good.”
Mr. Droz also anticipates the job losses and economic impacts to outweigh the benefits. While Torch Renewable Energy is anticipating eight permanent jobs to be created for the proposed facility and about $700,000 in tax and lease income, Mr. Droz said that a study in Scotland of their wind energy facilities showed a 2-6 percent drop in tourism due to wind energy facilities.
Based on a percentage of four, Mr. Droz said there could be about 112 jobs associated with tourism in Carteret County lost, as well as about $13,300,000 in a combination of lost tourism revenue and damage to agriculture if the turbines prove harmful to bats, which help with pest control.
Mr. Droz said the potential impacts of wind energy can be addressed, but that it will take people standing together to bring about the necessary changes to local, state and federal regulations and policies.
“Breeze energy representatives will paint a rosy picture of wind energy,” he said. “They’re very adept at dismissing people’s concerns. I ask you, don’t fall for it.”
Most of the crowd Tuesday night seemed to support Mr. Droz in his opposition of developing wind energy in Carteret County and in North Carolina in general. However, one person spoke up in favor of wind energy and the Torch Renewable Energy project.
Penny Hooper of the Interfaith Power and Light steering committee said there is no “one right answer” for current and future energy needs. She said it will be like “a patchwork quilt of renewables, like wind and solar as well as fossil fuels for now.”
“The idea of continuing to burn fossil fuels is not a sustainable plan,” she said. “The continued burning of these fossil fuels is putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is directly related to the warming and acidification of our oceans, the accelerated changing climate, the rise of sea level and the increase in major storms like Superstorm Sandy and the recent typhoon in the Phillipines,” she said.
Mrs. Hooper referred to Mr. Droz during her comments as a “climate change denier.” Mr. Droz said he doesn’t deny climate change, but thinks its an unresolved issue. Mrs. Hooper began to debate the percentage of electric energy produced by fossil fuels with Mr. Droz, but several people in the audience called for her to sit down.
Jerry Green, retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel and former chief of staff at Cherry Point, was concerned about potential impacts on radar, military training and the future use of the air station.
Ms. Crittenton said the Torch Renewable Energy project caught the county government by surprise. She said the commissioners have tried to speak with the command personnel at Cherry Point, but that “they think more of their position than of talking to peons like us.”
“There’s not enough information coming to us to make decisions on your behalf,” she said. “I feel a heavy governmental hand pushing this through. I feel like we’ve had to protect you from your own state and federal government. We have to make it so they (Torch Renewable Energy) don’t want to come here because we can’t just ban them.”
Regina Hill, an adjacent property owner to the proposed Torch Renewable Energy project, said she finds it funny that North Carolina regulates every industry except the wind energy industry.
“Setbacks need to be based on what’s safe for us, not what’s good for the developer,” she said. “I’m tired of hearing we have to do what’s defendable; we need to do what’s right.”
Sean Heely, a Newport resident, said it’s the company’s responsibility to show that their proposal will work. He said people opposed to the project need to make their presence known at public hearings that will be held as part of the project’s permitting process.
“We can’t stop the project,” he said, “but we can make it undesireable to come here.”
Sen. Sanderson said the General Assembly was caught unaware like Carteret County was by the Torch Renewable Energy project. He said that at the beginning of 2013, the state didn’t have any statutes for permitting wind energy facilities.
“It’s going to take all of you standing together and contacting your legislature (to change regulations),” he said. “It’s going to take every voice in this room, in Carteret County and in all the counties affected. We’ve got to keep it going; these companies sometimes outlast us. We want to protect our military bases, but you’ve got to help us.”
Mr. Droz has a website where he presents additional information on his wind energy research. Anyone interested in seeing this research may visit the website WiseEnergy.org/Carteret-Wind.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.