The Interior Department has released an environmental study that supports the potential lease of 300,000 acres off the North Carolina coast for wind farms.
Leases could be sold to wind developers in three areas of federal waters off the coast. At least five companies have expressed interest in developing wind projects off North Carolina.
“In close coordination with our partners in North Carolina, we are moving forward to determine what places make sense to harness the enormous wind energy potential off the Atlantic seaboard,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement Thursday.
The areas selected include about 122,000 acres 24 miles off Kitty Hawk, on the Outer Banks. An area of 51,000 acres is 10 miles off Wilmington and 133,000 acres is 15 miles off Bald Head Island near Southport, on the state’s southern tip.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, part of the Interior Department, says those areas were picked because they protect views from shore and wildlife habitat. The wind zones would also not conflict with military operations, fishing or shipping.
Further environmental studies would be done if and when wind farms are proposed.
The bureau said it will hold three public meetings in North Carolina in February but has not yet released specific locations. They’re Feb. 9 on the northern Outer Banks, Feb. 11 in Wilmington and Feb. 12 in Carolina Shores or Sunset Beach.
A 2009 study by UNC-Chapel Hill for state legislators found that offshore North Carolina has some of the most potent wind energy on the Atlantic coast.
Zak Keith, lead organizer for the North Carolina Sierra Club, called the announcement “a huge opportunity to create jobs and investment in the clean energy sector without the risks of oil spills” from offshore drilling.
The Obama administration has accelerated wind-energy development as a response to climate change.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has awarded seven commercial wind leases off Massachusetts, Delaware, Rhode Island, Maryland and Virginia. It is expected to hold competitive lease sales for areas off Massachusetts on Jan. 29 and New Jersey later this year.
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