WILMINGTON – Five energy companies have voiced interest in putting wind turbines off the North Carolina coast. But not everyone is excited about the idea, including some residents of the Brunswick County towns that will see turbines on the horizon.
At a meeting Wednesday in Wilmington, the N.C. Renewable Energy Task Force heard plans to open three areas to wind energy production: two of them off Brunswick County and one near Kitty Hawk. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has such task forces in 13 states to oversee wind energy – since 2009 it has issued nine leases for turbines in Massachusetts, Delaware, Rhode Island, Virginia and Maryland.
Two sites known as the Wilmington West and Wilmington East wind energy areas would sit south of the Brunswick County coast. Turbines in the west zone would be 11.5 miles from the Sunset Beach pier; the east zone would be 18.5 miles from the Bald Head Island lighthouse.
Donald van der Vaart, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Quality, told the task force he worries tourists may not enjoy seeing turbines from the beach.
“The tourism industry is a very large part of our economy,” he said, noting that he could support the turbines if they were farther from shore. “I think the question is, ‘Can we do one without harming the other?’ ”
Brian Krevor, an environmental protection specialist with the bureau, said a visibility study showed the turbines would be seen from shore about 30 percent of the time depending on weather conditions. He said moving the turbines farther out to sea would put them too far from productive winds.
Carrie Moffett of the Bald Head Association said homeowners on the island are concerned turbines would lower their property values. But Bald Head Island Conservancy director Suzanne Dorsey said her organization supports the plan.
“We do feel that it’s in alignment with our mission as a nonprofit organization,” she said. “We feel that it meets the vision of Bald Head Island, and that vision is a community that lives in harmony with nature.”
If the project moves forward as expected, it will likely still be years before turbines start spinning. The task force will use public feedback from Wednesday’s meeting when writing its lease offer, and will have to perform environmental and construction reviews before an energy company is allowed to build.
Dates have not been set for the task force to publish a sale notice or hold an auction for the lease sites.
Approving wind turbines
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will follow four steps when authorizing wind energy leases in North Carolina:
— Planning & Analysis: The bureau identifies potential wind energy areas and does an environmental review.
— Leasing: The bureau holds a sale or negotiates a lease.
— Site Assessment: The leasing energy company submits a site assessment plan for bureau approval; the company may assess the site with buoys or a meteorological tower.
— Construction & Operations: The energy company submits a construction plan for bureau approval and begins building its wind facility.
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