N.C.’s First Wind Farm is a Wind-Wind Solution
Horace Pritchard knew nothing about wind farming, other than what he’d seen on television, until one day he got a call from a company asking if he’d be interested in leasing some of his land for a few turbines.
“I thought they were doing energy for houses. I didn’t pay any attention to it,” says Pritchard, a 50-year veteran farmer who grows corn, soybeans and wheat on 1,300 acres in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties.
Two days later, the spokesperson from Iberdrola (now Avangrid Renewables) called again and Pritchard agreed to meet with him. After that, he says, “I talked to some of the people that had put wind turbines in with this company to see what they thought, and I got positive answers from everybody.” What’s more, says Pritchard, one of 60 landowners who signed on, “We couldn’t see anything else that we could farm and lose just a little teeny bit of land and get that kind of income out of it.”
In early 2017, the Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East began operating 104 turbines powered by Avangrid on about 200 acres (scattered over 22,000 acres) in the two counties. The first commercial-scale wind farm in North Carolina and one of the first in the Southeast, it delivers energy into a mid-Atlantic grid that supplies energy to Amazon Web Services cloud data centers. Much like water at a hydropower plant, the wind turns the blades of the turbines to generate electricity.
“Wind creates energy with no emissions, whereas other generation technologies can use a lot of water, emit air pollution or create waste that has to be dealt with in the end,” says Craig Poff, project developer at Avangrid Renewables. “Wind energy does not have those sorts of emissions.”
The availability of this reliable, clean natural resource, along with access to a high-voltage transmission line, made the flat land in the two narrow “finger” counties the perfect spot for a wind farm.
“We’re a bit inland from the Atlantic because of the way the gulfstream flows and the way that North Carolina kind of juts out into the Atlantic,” says Wayne Harris, economic developer for the Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission. “The wind in our area is very good. It probably would not have been good enough, say, 10 years ago, but as the turbines have become more and more efficient, this area, from a purely wind perspective, has become more attractive. The other thing that was very appealing [to Avangrid] is that there was not a single residential structure in that 22,000 acres.”
By the Numbers
104 turbines in the Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East
200 acres covered by the turbines (scattered over 22,000 acres)
0 residential structures on that acreage
$18.5 million direct economic impact during the 18-month construction phase
$1.1 million annual impact to the local economy
The rural community has already reaped multiple benefits. The Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East funnels $1.1 million annually into the local economy, including $520,000 in property taxes ($640,000 the first year), making it the largest taxpayer in both Perquimans and Pasquotank counties. During the 18-month construction phase, Avangrid employed approximately 30 local businesses, along with an army of more than 500 temporary workers, including 150 to 200 area residents ranging from electricians to truck drivers to surveyors. Together, they spent an estimated $18.5 million at local hotels, rental houses, restaurants, shops and other establishments. Seventeen permanent, highly skilled employees – about a quarter who are military veterans – now work at the site.
Farmers like Pritchard, who agreed to let Avangrid install nine turbines on his property, receive annual lease payments that help sustain their businesses during lean growing seasons.
“Wind is a particularly good type of renewable energy for farmers, because it uses a miniscule amount of acreage that they lease to the developer,” Harris points out. “From a farming perspective, there’s nothing not to like about leasing to a wind developer.”
Adds Poff, “The landowners can still do everything that they did before and farm right up to the base of the turbines. They continue to farm and get the extra crop out of the air.”
For Pritchard, the best part of the deal is the construction of 6 miles of new all-season roads that help him manage his crops. They are part of a 62-mile network of roadways that Avangrid built and maintains at no cost to property owners, Pritchard says. Before the creation of the wind farm, he relied on dirt logging paths that were cleared decades ago. When it rained, it was often impossible to move heavy equipment over the muddy land.
“Not only do our roads help us,” Pritchard says, “but we use some of the other roads to haul grain and keep up the farm.”
The wind farm has also brought at least one unexpected benefit: the “cool” factor. Farmers like Pritchard often take groups of curious visitors on tours of the towers. Restaurant owners excitedly talk up the project to patrons. And a growing number of prospective developers are making inquiries.
“It kind of marks us as a progressive area,” Harris says. “What we had not anticipated fully, something that’s been serendipitous for us, is just the fact that it is so majestic. It kind of fires the imagination.”
– Nancy Henderson