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Interior eyes 300K acres off North Carolina for future leasing

The Interior Department today announced the release of an environmental assessment of a plan to lease up to 300,000 acres off the coast of North Carolina for the construction of offshore wind farms.

The plan calls for leasing a 122,000-acre wind energy area about 28 miles off the coast of Kitty Hawk and two additional areas of 52,000 acres and 134,000 acres beginning about 12 miles off Cape Fear.

North Carolina is the latest of several East Coast states Interior has eyed for commercial wind development.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called the environmental assessment “another milestone” in the Obama administration’s fight against global climate change.

“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,” Jewell said.

The final wind energy areas (WEAs) have been reduced significantly from areas Interior preliminarily identified in late 2012, in response to concerns from the National Park Service, Coast Guard and coastal residents, including in Kitty Hawk.

Kitty Hawk had passed a resolution requesting that turbines be located at least 20 miles from shore, while the Park Service had asked that turbines stay roughly 40 miles from the 19th-century Bodie Island Lighthouse.

The Wilmington West WEA was modified to keep turbines at least 10 miles from shore to reduce visual impacts, and the Wilmington East WEA was modified to accommodate vessels using the Port of Wilmington, among other steps.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s environmental assessment will examine the impacts of issuing wind energy leases and allowing industry to survey the areas with devices like meteorological towers and buoys.

If a lease is issued and a winning bidder wants to build a wind farm, a separate National Environmental Policy Act review will need to be performed.

The public will have until late February to comment on the draft environmental assessment. BOEM will also hold three public meetings in February in the northern Outer Banks, Wilmington and Carolina Shores, or Sunset Beach.

So far, the Obama administration has awarded seven commercial Atlantic coast wind energy leases off Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland and Virginia, raising more than $14 million in high bids for over 357,000 acres of federal waters.

So far, no companies have commissioned a commercial-scale facility in the United States, despite more than 7,000 megawatts of projects having been installed around the world, according to the Energy Department.

The 130-turbine Cape Wind project off Nantucket Sound, Mass., which many believed would be the nation’s first-ever offshore wind farm, suffered a major setback this month when two utilities opted to terminate agreements to purchase its power (Greenwire, Jan. 7).

With a critical 30 percent investment tax credit now expired – and a Republican-controlled Congress that has resisted proposals to prop up clean energy – the industry faces major struggles in standing up projects in U.S. waters.

The Offshore Wind Development Coalition, a trade group based in Washington, D.C., that advocated for offshore wind, in mid-2014 merged into the American Wind Energy Association.