Swansboro commissioners have put off making a decision on whether they will support allowing offshore wind farms.
A consensus reached at the Feb. 21 meeting will give the commission three months to consider the request to support development of wind energy.
The request to consider a resolution in support of offshore wind farms was presented along with an overview of wind-generated electricity at the board’s Feb. 15 work session by Mac Montgomery of Kure Beach, representing the Sierra Club.
When the matter came up during the commissioner comment section of the regular meeting, the members did not appear eager to consider the matter.
“How about if we put it off for about three months and then bring it back?” Mayor Scott Chadwick suggested. While there was no vote on the proposal, the commissioners all nodded in approval.
Later, Chadwick said the panel has too much to deal with in the coming weeks and months to devote the time necessary to study wind energy.
“It is not something that any of us have had a chance to do any research,” he explained. “We are going to do some research on it before we vote on that resolution.”
To the best of his knowledge, the board members do not have any pre-conceived notions.
“I don’t think anybody had any real heartburn against it, we just want to look into it,” the mayor said.
Montgomery, who has been on a mission to promote offshore wind energy, was unfazed by the delay.
“This is a long-term effort and so their delay isn’t critical,” he said. “Of course I’d like to have it immediately but we are willing to continue to work with the commissioners to come up with something that represents their community.
“I think the key element in this issue is that we continue our education efforts throughout the state. Change is difficult under the best of circumstances and the more information we provide the better it will be for all of us when it happens.
“Renewable energy has made major headway in the past decade and, in spite of skeptics, will continue to grow.”
Montgomery, chairman of the Coastal Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club, stood before the town commissioners of Swansboro – his 14th municipality in this campaign – in an effort to elicit the town’s support for wind energy.
“The purpose of this is … to educate the public along the coast about something before it’s done,” he said of the presentation.
Montgomery explained that in many cases, policies are debated and approved without any input from those who would be most affected. Not so with the plan that would allow offshore wind farms within sight of the state’s coast.
“We need to be part of the decision process,” he said.
Through his position with the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization, Montgomery is making sure local governments and average citizens understand that the benefits of allowing windmills offshore far outweigh the risks. And he is hoping to find support for the Sierra Club’s mission: to move our country “beyond coal.”
And, while one way to eliminate the use of coal is to shift power-generating plants to natural gas, the most advantageous for North Carolina would be a shift to wind, he said.
Of the 13 states on the Eastern Seaboard, North Carolina has the most potential in terms of wind-generated energy, according to a June 2010 study, according to Montgomery. Specifically, in offshore waters less than 30 meters in depth, North Carolina’s potential is estimated at 140 gigawatts. The next closest is South Carolina, with an estimated 86 GW. That is based on average wind speed and total area.
Already, however, much of the offshore area that would be suitable based on wind speeds and location has been ruled out for other reasons. For example, the U.S. Marine Corps’ objections eliminated much of Onslow Bay. Montgomery said the fear is the windmills would interfere with military training.
But that is not a worry. In fact, the way Montgomery sees it, that is an advantage for proponents of wind energy off the state’s coast because it acts as a pre-clearance.
North Carolina offshore waters are ideal because there is wind in the range of 8-10 knots 90 percent of the time in the summer, according to the presentation. In the winter months, that increases to 95 percent of the time.
Key to the proposal is the fact that establishing wind farms off the coast of North Carolina would create jobs. Montgomery showed statistics that for every 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind generation, 10,350 manufacturing and construction jobs would be created. Another 2,000 jobs would be created for operations and maintenance.
He said that 2,500 MW would power 400,000 homes.
Studies of similar wind farms in Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom show that the windmills have a minimum negative effect on wildlife. In fact, they become attractive to marine life.
“Each one will create an artificial reef,” Montgomery said.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Commissioner Gery Boucher asked what wind energy would mean for consumers.
Montgomery said that for the first 8-10 years, the consumer would pay more for electricity but the costs would go down.
“Once production costs come down, it would equal a break-even (with coal-fired plants),” he explained.
Commissioner Junior Freeman asked if the structures could withstand hurricane-force winds. Montgomery said existing construction is rated for storms up to a Category 3. However, the technology is improving.
Commissioner Larry Philpott asked if noise from the blades would be noticeable.
The blade noise would reach 50 decibels, according to Montgomery. By comparison, a lawn mower reaches about 100 dbs.
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