The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held a public presentation Monday in Southport on its findings in a study on the visual impact of proposed wind turbine farms off the North Carolina coast.
The presentation used enlarged panoramic photographs taken at a high resolution to present viewers with an accurate simulation of how an offshore wind farm might appear when seen from beaches near the proposed areas.
BOEM representatives stated they hoped to give local officials and residents who are concerned about wind farm impacts on tourism and the view in their areas an accurate idea of a farm’s appearance and to gather input from the public on the issue.
Two such officials in attendance were Sunset Beach’s Mayor Richard Cerrato and Councilwoman Carol Scott who expressed skepticism over the relevance of the study.
They argued that the study only looked at visual impacts at sites 10, 15 and 20 nautical miles off the coast, while farms have been proposed as close as 6 nautical miles from the coast near Sunset Beach.
“Everyone is in favor of cheap, renewable energy, no one here is against that, the issue is balancing that desire with current industries and the local community,” Scott said. “Tourism is the major industry in Sunset Beach.”
“I wouldn’t object to these fields being 15 nautical miles out but they have been proposed near our community at 6 and 7 miles because that’s where wind conditions and shallow water is,” Scott explained, saying that this is too close for comfort.
The BOEM study wasn’t linked to any actual concrete plan for development of wind turbine farms off the coast but served as a hypothetical to inform both the public and possible developers of future farms on the issue and to gauge reaction.
Distance of the farms to the coast is likely to be a major issue of controversy in the future of wind farm development due to balancing visibility and the great cost of laying transmission cables to any proposed farm, which according to BOEM would cost $2 million to $5 million per nautical mile.
“We are getting more questions but we want more answers,” Cerrato said. “We are not yet convinced of the direct benefit to our community if the coast is distorted by lights and windmills.”
Even among residents who were supportive of wind farm development and environmentally low impact energy, there was some skepticism over the visual impact to the region.
Molla Donaldson of Southport explained that she was surprised by how visible the turbines in BOEM’s simulations were at the closest distance to shore in the study, at 10 nautical miles.
“I want to hear more information, there hasn’t been enough but I strongly support discussion of these environmental issues,” Donaldson said. “Even though I was surprised by the view, I would much rather have wind turbines than fracking or offshore drilling.”
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