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Wind power is the largest source of renewable energy in the United States, but much of the country has not had those large commercial wind farms until now. A new 22,000-acre farm is up and running in North Carolina. It is considered the first of its kind in the Southeastern U.S., and NPR's Sarah McCammon went for a visit.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: At Horace Pritchard's farm, there is a new crop one that won't wither in the hot August heat or be washed away by big storms.
HORACE PRITCHARD: When corn's down, to - that you're not making any ends meet, this will help us pull through a bad year or a hurricane or a drought.
MCCAMMON: This is wind power. Pritchard is one of about 60 landowners who are leasing property to the site known as the Amazon Wind Farm. U.S. East. Developers say it will generate enough power for 61,000 homes per year, power that the internet retailer Amazon has agreed to buy from the electric grid. Pritchard says he knew it was windy here about 30 miles from the Atlantic coast, but he didn't expect this.
PRITCHARD: I'd seen on TV in other countries and all where they'd done - kinds of projects. And had just kind of run through my mind that this would be something back here, but never had no idea that it would come.
MCCAMMON: Alongside Pritchard's tractors, the tall white towers dot the landscape, their blades whooshing faintly as they cut through the blue sky. The tip of the highest blade stretches close to 500 feet in the air above the base, longer than a football field. Craig Poff is with the developer Avangrid Renewables.
CRAIG POFF: They've gotten a little bit taller, and the blades have gotten a little bit longer.
MCCAMMON: That extra length is possible because of technological advances. It's important says, Michael Goggin of the American Wind Energy Association, because the strongest winds in the region tend to be higher up.
MICHAEL GOGGIN: Thus far, we just haven't had turbines that were large enough to get up there to capture those winds.
MCCAMMON: That's partly a quirk of geography, Goggin says, and partly because the Southeast has a lot of trees, unlike the Great Plains with its wide open spaces. Which explains why, aside from a small amount of wind power in Tennessee, the Southeast has lagged far behind the rest of the country in wind energy.
GOGGIN: I think it has changed the energy map of the country. Traditionally, people didn't think there was wind in the Southeast. And now, you know, there are projects being built there.
MCCAMMON: For the project in North Carolina, there were other obstacles. Republican state lawmakers raised concerns that it might interfere with military radar, something the Navy has said is unlikely. Lawmakers then made a last ditch request to President Trump to block the project.
That failed, but Trump has expressed skepticism about wind power. He famously objected to a wind farm he said would disrupt the view near one of his golf courses in Scotland. Those concerns, along with worries about the impact on birds and other wildlife often pop up around new wind developments, but Craig Poff says he hopes the project will pave the way for more in the region.
POFF: Our hope is that this project, being the first in the Southeast, is going to enable people to see how it works and get a little more comfortable with it.
MCCAMMON: Farmer Horace Pritchard says some of his neighbors here in rural North Carolina worried about noise from the wind farm and wondered how much land it would use. He says the $54,000 dollars he get each year for the nine towers on his property more than offsets the land taken out of production underneath that.
PRITCHARD: Over the long term, nothing I could grow legal would produce what these are doing.
MCCAMMON: Pritchard says some of the neighbors who initially scoffed at the windfarm are now asking if they can get in on the deal. Sarah McCammon, NPR News.
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