MOREHEAD CITY – North Carolina is among the top three states for potential offshore wind energy, but no offshore wind facilities exist yet.
This could change, however, and both the state and federal government are preparing to handle the growing interest in offshore wind energy.
And any leasing for a wind energy project will go through regulatory and public scrutiny, federal and state officials say.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), along with the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Energy Office, held a meeting for elected officials Friday at the Train Depot to discuss forming a federally run task force on offshore energy and provide information to the officials on offshore wind energy in the state.
Gov. Bev Perdue first proposed the task force discussed at the meeting in June in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ken Salazar. The task force, if formed, will involve 40-50 representatives from state, local, tribal and federal agencies. The task force will identify issues of interest to all the various parties involved concerning offshore wind energy.
One audience member at the meeting said local government representatives could be chosen from anywhere for the task force. Jennifer Bumgarner, assistant secretary for energy for the state Department of Commerce, said she couldn’t imagine the task force not involving representatives from coastal communities.
“We’re not going to do this with five representatives in a locked room,” she said.
Larry Shirley, director of the state Energy Office’s Green Economy division, said current data shows there are 55 gigawatts of potential energy in the wind off the state coast.
The gigawatt is equal to one billion watts. The unit is sometimes used for large power plants or power grids.
Mr. Shirley said attention is shifting from building land-based wind energy facilities to building offshore ones.
“The Energy Office plans to have 20 percent of all energy produced by alternative energy sources by 2030,” he said.
Bob Leker, Renewable Energy Program manager for the state Department of Commerce, said offshore locations are a better choice for wind resources because there’s less variation in wind speeds, as well as higher wind speeds. There’s also less of a visibility problem when the wind turbines are built further offshore.
“North Carolina could be a leader in wind energy,” he said.
While there are currently 13 projects in the permitting and development stages around the country, there are no existing wind energy facilities offshore in the United States. Most interest shown in developing offshore energy has so far come from private companies.
One such company is Outer Banks Ocean Energy, which is part of Apex Offshore Wind out of Charlottesville, Va. The company has applied with the BOEMRE to build a facility in the federal waters 20 miles offshore from North Carolina, between Cape Fear and Cape Lookout, in federal waters.
Duke Energy had also proposed a small test facility offshore in Pamlico Sound, which is in state waters, but announced Friday it was dropping the project. While Duke Energy said it was planning on working on larger offshore wind energy projects, nobody at the Friday meeting said if Duke Energy had applied for a new project or signed on with the Outer Banks Ocean Energy project.
Waters off the coast of North Carolina are managed up to three miles offshore by the state. Between three and 200 miles offshore, they become federal waters. The BOEMRE handles leasing applications to build wind energy farms in these federal waters. The bureau is authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which gives the Secretary of the Interior the right to regulate energy production in the waters of the Outer Continental Shelf.
Jessica Bradley, environmental protection specialist in the BOEMRE’s Office of Alternative Energy Programs, said when an application for a lease is submitted, an intergovernmental task force is formed to solicit interest to determine if there’s competitive interest in the requested lease. If there is, an auction is held.
Commercial offshore wind energy leases come with a six-month preliminary term, during which the leasing company must submit a full plan for environmental review. Each commercial lease comes with a five-year assessment term, then a 25-year operation term.
The BOEMRE follows the National Environmental Policy Act during their environmental review. Jennifer Kilanski, the bureau’s environmental lead, said they disclose the proposed plans publicly, involve the public in the review process, mitigate environmental impacts and conduct environmental impact studies (EIS).
“In the environmental process, we’ll have a public scoping meeting,” she said. “We then prepare and publish a draft EIS in the federal register.”
Public hearings and comments are then accepted before a final EIS draft is issued. Ms. Kilanski said they expect the elected officials on the task force requested by Gov. Perdue would go back to their constituents for input and comments on any issues the task force would take on.
“We expect several opportunities (for public comment),” she said.
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