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Wind farm technology enhances prospects for southeastern North Carolina

Technological advances are making areas like southeastern North Carolina more suitable for wind farms, energy officials say.

Wind farms create power when turbine blades turn and spin shafts connected to generators. Changes over the past five to 10 years have allowed wind turbines to create more energy with less resources, said Ian Baring-Gould, technology deployment manager for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Towers that hold wind turbines are getting taller and the rotor blades longer, Baring-Gould said.

“The turbines are getting more efficient over time,” he said. “We certainly see this continuing in the future.”

Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources is studying an area near Lumber Bridge for the potential of building a wind farm. The Hoke County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a conditional use permit in September that allows the company to build a 196-foot tower to measure wind speeds on a 52-acre tract off N.C. 20 near the Robeson County line.

Baring-Gould said in an online presentation hosted by the Southeastern Wind Coalition that in 2008 the land in North Carolina viable for wind development was mostly in the mountains. Recent changes have opened the possibility of development along the coast, but that area is expected to expand in the next five to 10 years.

“The whole coastal plain of North Carolina opens up to wind development,” he said. “The technology is changing and will continue to change.”

Brian O’Hara, president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition, said in an interview that the expansion doesn’t mean those areas will be developed for wind energy. He said areas in northeastern North Carolina are farther along in potentially hosting wind farms than the southeastern part of the state.

“Technological advances are opening up more options,” he said.

O’Hara said in the presentation that North Carolina’s renewable energy standard gives it an advantage over other southeastern states. Lawmakers passed a law in 2007 that says large utilities have to generate 12.5 percent of their power from renewable resources.

Current regulations in North Carolina are more favorable to solar energy, O’Hara said in the interview.

Baring-Gould said wind energy development can increase even though the amount of wind hasn’t changed.

“It’s all about how the technology is able to use the wind resource that is present in a given area,” he said.

In the past, most of the available land for wind energy development has been in the heartland of the United States, Baring-Gould said. The southeastern part of the country has historically been written off as viable for wind farms, but that is changing and could change more in the future, he said.

“Areas that at one point were not considered viable for wind development may now be or could certainly be in the very near future,” Baring-Gould said. “So we need to keep reassessing this in different areas of the country.”

O’Hara said the changes don’t mean that the southeastern part of the country should expect to get all its energy from the wind.

“Technology development is quickly changing things,” he said. “Assumptions that once held true are certainly being challenged today about the viability of wind energy for southeastern states.”