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NC wind farm continues development despite zoning permit battle

Apex Clean Energy intends to continue developing part of the Timbermill Wind Farm in North Carolina while it waits for a county court to overturn a local board's denial of a zoning permit.

"We remain hopeful that the Superior Court will reverse the Perquimans County denial of Timbermill's permit. This would allow the project to meet its full potential. In the meantime, we will also continue developing the project in Chowan County and pursuing the other state and federal permits required for the project," Apex Clean Energy's Senior Manager of Project Development Don Giecek said in a statement emailed Dec. 28. The company has also analyzed the viability of siting the project only in Chowan County and has "determined that such a project is economically feasible, and we intend to pursue development with Chowan County officials," Apex Clean Energy spokesman Kevin Chandler said in an email.

Timbermill would be the second-largest land-based wind project in the state if the full project, which consists of 105 turbines, is built across the two counties. The wind farm follows Avangrid Renewables LLC's 300-MW Amazon Wind Farm US East, 208 MW of which is expected online by January 2017, S&P Global data shows.

Apex will move ahead with development in Chowan County, where the project qualified for a conditional use permit, or CUP, a type of zoning permit allowing for construction. But the Charlottesville, Va.-based developer is pursuing an appeal in neighboring Perquimans County, which on Nov. 21 denied a CUP to the project, known legally as Timbermill Wind LLC. Apex, in its May 9, 2016, application to Perquimans County, had proposed 47 turbines, each 599 feet high, in Chowan County, and 57 such turbines in Perquimans County.

Apex expects Perquimans County to hear its appeal in the spring of 2017, Chandler said. Attorneys from Parker Poe Adams and Bernstein LLP, which represents Timbermill Wind, said the Perquimans County board had found that the project met four general conditions that qualified it for the CUP.

"If the quasi-judicial board finds that the applicant satisfies the ordinance's requirement for a CUP, the quasi-judicial board does not have discretion to deny the CUP application. The board must issue the CUP," Apex's attorneys said in the Dec. 20 petition filed in Perquimans County Superior Court. But the board, in a 3-2 vote, still denied Timbermill's permit application.

Poyner Spruill Attorney Chad Essick, who represents nine landowners opposed to the project, participated in the quasi-judicial hearings that began in August and led in part to the Perquimans County board's denial of the permit. Essick said he intends to participate in the Superior Court's proceedings to "defend the board's decision to deny the permit," according to a Dec. 28 interview.

Essick recommended that the court affirm Perquimans County's denial of the permit, according to a Dec. 21 cross-petition. The nine residents represented by Essick own property abutting or adjacent to the project site and are concerned about the project's impact on their property values. Some of the residents, whose land is used for farming and/or recreation, will face adverse impacts from the shadow flickering and noise impacts of the wind farm, according to the cross-petition.