About two-thirds of offshore ocean areas eyed for potential wind farm development are off limits for the spinning turbines, according to a federal panel mapping North Carolina’s ocean waters.
The federal panel won’t issue a formal recommendation until this summer, but after a second meeting last week in Raleigh, the panel has issued provisional maps that show much of the state’s ocean waters as being unsuitable for offshore wind farms. The task force will likely meet again in June.
The task force has X’d out large swaths of the Atlantic Ocean for military operations, fish habitats and bird migratory patterns. The panel has scaled back an area of 10,564 square miles down to 3,679 square miles, and the mapping project is still under way.
Still to be taken up are concerns from the National Park Service. The federal agency will assess one of the most contentious aspects of wind energy: the visual effects of the tower-mounted turbines that are more than 400 feet tall.
The current map shows potential areas for wind farm development as close as 4 miles to the shore. At that distance, the turbines would be visible from the beach, leading to potential objections from the tourist industry and local residents.
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the agency that issues oil drilling permits, will use the recommendation by its task force to determine which ocean waters are suitable for wind farm development. The map will exclude areas that conflict with shipping routes, military operations, environmental concerns or other issues.
Based on the task force’s provisional map, virtually all of Onslow Bay would be off limits. That means that a proposed offshore wind farm planned for that area will have to be penciled in elsewhere if it is to become a reality.
“We were in Onslow Bay, which is totally red-zoned,” said Rob Propes, development manager for Apex Wind Energy.
Onslow Bay is used for military operations by airplanes, water craft and submarines.
Apex Wind, a renewable energy developer that had planned to begin operating the first phase of its offshore wind farm by 2017, will now look for development potential in other offshore regions.
Propes said the company can work around the exclusion zones. Similar task forces in other states have also designated extensive offshore areas as unsuitable for wind farms.
The 3,679 square miles left on the map by the North Carolina task force could still accommodate 50,000 megawatts of offshore wind development, Propes said.
It’s a big place
“The ocean is a big place, but there are also a lot of existing uses that need to be protected,” said BrianO’Hara, president of the N.C. Offshore Wind Coalition, a Raleigh nonprofit industry group. “One of the advantages North Carolina has by having such a large resource is that it allows us the flexibility to conservatively excludeareas of concern and still have plenty of great options for development.”
Apex Wind, based in Charlottesville, Va., is looking to develop as much as 2,000 megawatts of wind power offshore. That’s equivalent to two nuclear plants if the wind farm were operating at full capacity.
Unlike nuclear plants, which generate electricity round-the-clock, offshore wind farms produce electricity more than a third of any given day, when the wind blows sufficiently strong.
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