North Carolina Homeowners Battle Wind Farm

Published May 16, 2016

A North Carolina couple is suing the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over the construction of a wind farm adjacent to their home.

The wind farm, operated by Iberdrola Renewables, will span 22,000 acres in Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties, located in rural North Carolina. Proposed in 2011, Iberdrola broke ground on the project in July 2015.

The plaintiffs say the wind farm should not be built because it failed to undergo a required state permitting review.

State Law Calls for Permitting Process

Most wind energy projects in North Carolina are required to undergo a state-level review and permitting process, as outlined in a wind-siting law passed by the state’s legislature in 2013, but the law exempts projects receiving Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval before the law’s passage from review. Iberdrola received FAA approval for its project in 2012.

Since the initial FAA determination, Iberdrola has moved the location of some of the turbines, reduced their number, and increased their size, actions the plaintiffs, represented by Civitas Institute attorney Elliot Engstrom, say warrant a permitting review by the state.

The landowners bringing the suit, Stephen Owens and his wife Jillane Bidawi, contend the original project approved by FAA is distinct from the wind farm now under construction, and they say DEQ should conduct a permitting review as a result, including an environmental impact study and public hearings.

State Reverses Its Decision

The DEQ initially determined Iberdrola needed to go through the state permitting process for the altered project, issuing a letter to Iberdrola to that effect in March 2013. It reversed that decision in the following month, announcing the project would be grandfathered in.

Owens and Bidawi are concerned about noise, aesthetics, potential health effects from the turbines, and the potential impact on their property’s value, which they say could be significant.

“These are going to be some of the largest wind turbines ever built,” said Engstrom. “The turbines that will be less than a mile from Owens and Bidawi’s home are 499 feet high at the blade tip, taller than all but one building in Raleigh, the state’s capital.” 

Even Application of the Law

Civitas’ filings stress the threefold purpose of the 2013 law: protecting the military, the environment, and the public. Owens and Bidawi have sued the state’s DEQ and Pasquotank County, which, in anticipation of the potential tax revenue generated by the project, has intervened in support of DEQ.

Engstrom says the suit isn’t about opposition to wind energy; it’s about evenly applying the law.

“We’re suing DEQ, [but] we’re not suing Iberdrola,” said Engstrom. “This is just about fair application of state law. If you have a law, enforce it. Don’t let industries come in and dictate how state agencies are going to enforce the law.”

Engstrom says more lawsuits challenging wind farm sitings are likely in North Carolina.

“These [wind farms] are going to be less than a mile off people’s homes. I really think over the next 10 years we’re going to see conflicts play out between property owners and wind energy developers,” said Engstrom.

Ann N. Purvis ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.