Leases for offshore wind farms could be up for auction as soon as next year, but it will be much longer before any turbines hit the distant Outer Banks horizon, if they ever do.
Federal officials were in Kitty Hawk this week to discuss an environmental study that is the first step of several leading up to potential offshore development of wind farms.
Five companies have shown interest in areas off of Wilmington, N.C. and Kitty Hawk. But before the first turbine goes up, they will need to first figure out if wind power is worth the investment.
After incorporating public comments and assessing other information, the agency will decide if a more detailed environmental impact statement is needed or if BOEM can go ahead and notify the companies that an auction will be held.
The Kitty Hawk site is 24 miles offshore and about 16 miles long. The area was reduced significantly after Kitty Hawk officials voiced concerns about sight pollution and studies showed busy shipping traffic in and out of Hampton Roads.
Areas off of Wilmington were also scaled back after the National Park Service said that offshore development could interfere with the Bodie Island Lighthouse.
Also considered in the study were the possible effects on marine life and birds.
After leases are awarded, companies will set up bouys or meteorological towers to measure weather conditions and the amount of wind that might be available. But that can happen only after site assessment plans, which will be subject to more federal review and public hearings.
Meteorological towers are up to 377 feet high and might be visible from the shore depending on the weather and the time of year.
The speed of the wind, “ultimately dictates how much power you can produce,” said BOEM’s William Waskes.
“How much power you can produce equals how much revenue you can make, ” he said. “And in order to get financing for that, you need to empirically show what kind of wind resource you actually have.”
Waskes said after the hearing that lease holders have a year to make their assessments. The leases can be turned over to other companies or they can revert to the federal government.
The time frame and other limitations should prevent oil and gas developers to buy up the leases and stifle alternative energy exploration, he said.
When wind farms would appear offshore is anybody’s guess. Waskes said the process for development off of New England is in its 10th year.
Public comment closes Feb. 23. For more, go to www.regulations.org and use the key word BOEM-2015-0001.
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