Groundbreaking held for big wind farm near Elizabeth City

RALEIGH, N.C. (WAVYAP) — A division of Amazon is buying the renewable energy generated by the South’s first big wind-power project.

Seattle-based Amazon Web Services said Monday it has agreed to buy the electricity generated by the 200-megawatt operation to be built near Elizabeth City in rural eastern North Carolina.

Governor Pat McCrory helped break ground Tuesday for the project being built by Iberdrola Renewables. “This is going to be one of the largest wind farms in the country,” he said.

By the end of next year, up to 150 turbines will stretch over 34 square miles and generate enough energy to power 60,000 homes — but they won’t.

“In this case, we’re targeting our data center customers,” said Iberdrola Renewables CEO Frank Burkhartsmeyer.

That one big customer is Amazon Web Services in Northern Virginia.

The fast-growing division of Amazon announced revenues of more than $1.5 billion in the most recent quarter. It operates a series of electricity-hungry Internet servers that are used to offer cloud computing services that can be accessed from any machine with an Internet connection.

Buying the power generated by the wind farm is helping the company reach its goal of using 100 percent renewable energy.

“We’re supplying energy that’s going to be used in the state of Virginia, right here in North Carolina,” McCrory said, adding that the big winners of this deal are the people of Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.

The project will generate millions of much-needed tax dollars.

Attorney and renewable energy advocate Henry Campen was instrumental in bringing wind energy to the area. He told 10 On Your Side how harnessing this natural resource helps.

“Unlike a lot of industrial projects, where you have to build roads, sewer and water to attract an industrial customer, none of that here. So, the tax revenue that comes from this project drops to the bottom line,” Campen said.

Environmentalists with the Sierra Club hail this project as a win, “moving us away from our reliance on fossil fuels that are harmful to our air, water, and climate.”

With a close proximity to Hampton Roads, they also said it could support wind development along the east coast of Virginia.

The project will employ about 250 construction jobs over the next year and a half. After that, there will be about 10 employees permanently stationed at the wind farm. It should be ready to operate in December 2016.

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