Would it bother you to see windmills on the ocean horizon? Would it help if they were supplying your electricity needs and eliminating the need for coal-fired, natural gas or nuclear power plants? How about if there was a small artificial reef at the base of each turbine? Wind farms for the Atlantic Ocean off the North Carolina coast are being discussed, and one group of stakeholders heard about the plans at a meeting in Shallotte on May 14 with staff from the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has divided the ocean floor off the coast to the Continental Shelf into 1,266 blocks, covering 10,564 acres, for the purposes of leasing mineral or drilling rights. Possible wind farm sites have been narrowed down to three: two roughly between Cape Fear and the South Carolina border, and one off the Outer Banks near Kitty Hawk.
The staff of the UNC Marine Institute held the meeting to see what stakeholders in the Cape Fear area would want or would not tolerate if wind farms were built. Stakeholders included participants in the charter-fishing and commercial-fishing industries, diving, eco-tourism and tourism.
Originally, five sites were determined to be suitable for the construction of ocean wind farms, but two were eliminated by concerns over military interaction, national parks, marine-mammal migration and interaction, and concerns about shipping corridors. The remaining sites are Wilmington East, Wilmington West and Kitty Hawk.
“The general consensus of current participants in wind-energy projects is that a project requires a minimum of 200 turbines to be productive,” said Dr. Pete Peterson, a professor at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. “The first wind farms were designed in rectangles, but they found some of the turbines were always shielded from the wind and newer designs include long arcs and partial circles. The technology may change before anything is implemented here, but the turbines currently under consideration for this call area are placed approximately a kilometer apart. It will be a large area to hold 200 turbines.”
One concern from stakeholders at the meeting was access. Numerous fishermen pointed out that Wilmington East and Wilmington West include a lot of low-relief hardbottoms that encompass many popular natural fishing areas, wrecks and artificial reefs. The consensus was they didn’t mind the towers and turbines as long as none of these areas were disturbed and there was unrestricted access for fishing, boating and diving. Most stakeholders were appreciative of the small artificial reefs that would be created by the turbine supports and scour pans that would encircle the bases of the turbine supports and extend outward approximately 30 meters.
A question about the routing of transmission cables interfering with ocean shrimping was answered because cables will be buried in the ocean floor. Visibility of turbines from land was discussed in passing but did not appear to be a primary concern of stakeholders. In the blocks closer to land, turbines would be visible from the beaches, especially from the upper floors of taller buildings, but visibility would be best during the cooler, winter weather when tourism is at its lowest point.
A concern was raised about ocean-going ships out of Wilmington’s state port. The UNC panel said turbines will be at least a kilometer apart, which his wider than most of the channel heading up the Cape Fear River to the port of Wilmington.