Our North Carolina economy is powered by the agricultural and military sectors. Over the last few years, we have done a fantastic job of raising awareness of the importance of agriculture, but too few people understand the value of our military economy. North Carolina is home to nearly 600,000 Department of Defense related jobs, and 50 percent of those are in the private sector. The impact of the industry space is in excess of $66 billion of economic activity, representing 15 percent of North Carolina’s gross state product.
As examples on a more local level, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base provides in excess of $800 million of economic impact for Goldsboro. The Fleet Readiness Center East, in Cherry Point, provides aircraft maintenance and employs more than 3,500 civilians. It is the largest industrial employer located east of I-95. Cherry Point provides over $2 billion to our economy. Recently, we have heard a great deal of discussion regarding the importance of our $66 billion military economy as it relates to wind energy. We have seen opinion pieces, and heard speeches provided by people who are paid to advance the interests of the wind lobby. In my opinion, there has been a great deal of purposefully confusing rhetoric on this topic.
I believe renewable energy can be a valuable supplemental resource in the future. I understand many of the problems that exist today: it’s expensive, not reliable, intermittent, wind turbines require electricity, it’s been subsidized, etc. I expect the technology to evolve with time and many of these issues will likely be addressed.
I’m new to the General Assembly. I have received zero dollars from “wind” or “anti-wind” groups, or any PAC for that matter, and no mysterious 501 (c) (4) organization has helped to elect me. I am just a small town guy who wants to make good decisions, and help my state. As such, I am probably uniquely credible to share what I know to be facts.
We’re not the only state to have concerns about the impact of wind turbines on military air space. This is a multi-state issue, and concerns regarding mission capabilities are very real. Last month, Oklahoma unanimously passed legislation in both chambers to protect their bases. It was signed by the Governor under an emergency clause that made the law effective immediately. They have shut down three military training routes due to wind turbines. Concerns have been expressed in New York, Texas, California, Maryland, Oklahoma and other states.
Members of the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committee have ordered studies or expressed concerns for this issue. The topic was included in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, and we are told it will be included again this year. If we truly had a solution today, this would not be coming up in multiple states or being discussed perennially in Washington.
The Base Realignment and Closure Process (BRAC) is an inherently political process, and we must protect North Carolina’s interests. Folks - it is a yearly topic in DC, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The Military Aviation and Installation Assurance Siting Clearinghouse is a fine organization, but it absolutely doesn’t protect us from BRAC. It also absolutely can’t provide “a thumbs up or thumbs down” for wind turbines. It merely provides input into the FAA process. I have this in writing from the Director of the Clearinghouse, Mr. Ronald Tickle.
We have a good group of lawmakers with differing perspectives working on this bill while my friend, Sen. Harry Brown, has worked tirelessly on the budget. No one hates renewable energy, as some have erroneously suggested. We’re having communication with representatives of the wind industry. We face real problems, and we are trying to find reasonable solutions. All parties agree our first priority must be to protect the mission capabilities of our military.
Last week, the governor’s North Carolina Military Affairs Commission (NCMAC) voted to support the Military Base Protection Act (Senate Bill 377). The independent non-partisan NCMAC is made up of 11 appointees from the governor and 10 from the General Assembly.
This bill will continue to evolve and we will end up with the best solution we can find that will pass the Senate and the House. When that step is complete and it comes to the governor’s desk for his signature, the estimated 22 percent of North Carolinians with a connection to the military will be able to gauge the sincerity of the governor’s commitment to North Carolina’s installations and military communities.
Sen. Jim Perry represents Wayne and Lenoir counties in North Carolina’s 7th District.