About 10 years from now, if you’re standing on the beach of Bald Head Island and look out toward the Atlantic horizon, you might be able to see a line of turbines – hundreds of them – spinning from the strong winds flowing over the ocean.
Federal officials with the Bureau of Ocean Management (BOEM) expect hundreds of turbines to churn out energy off of the Bald Head Island coastline.
On Wednesday, BOEM hosted the North Carolina Renewable Energy Task Force, a coalition between the federal agency and local interests such as representatives from Bald Head island, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and state government officials to discuss the steps being made to bring wind energy to the North Carolina coastline.
The meeting continued on the progress the task force made in September, which included unveiling an environmental assessment that found no significant environmental or socioeconomic impacts would occur if the BOEM were to lease three Wind Energy Areas (WEA) off the shores of North Carolina.
During Wednesday’s meeting representatives from BOEM discussed the proposed approach for an offshore wind auction, the next step for bringing wind-powered energy to the shores of North Carolina.
The WEAs, which total approximately 307,590 acres, include the Kitty Hawk WEA (about 122,405 acres), the Wilmington West WEA (about 51,595 acres), and the Wilmington East WEA (about 133,590 acres). BOEM says the opportunity to lease each WEA will be sold in an online auction format. Any potential interests would have to apply through BOEM and the leases would go to the highest bidder, with the starting price at about $2 an acre.
After leases are issued and a lessee proposes to construct a commercial wind energy facility, the lessee must submit a construction and operations plan for BOEM’s review and approval. BOEM would then prepare a site-specific analysis for the project proposed, which would create standards for the commercial interests for the lessee to adhere to, including maintaining the environmental standards of the National Environmental Policy Act.
According to BOEM officials, the two Wilmington WEAs would actually be about 11 miles off the coast of Bald Head Island and could potentially included over a hundred turbines standing about 500 feet tall. BOEM predicts that these two leases could produce enough energy to power an area similar to the size of Cape Cod.
Local environmental groups were excited to see the progress made to bring Wind Energy off the coast. “The biggest threat to our natural environment on Bald Head Island is storms, and as we start to see greater storms due to climate change, we need to move to more diverse clean energy systems, said Suzanne Dorsey, executive director of Bald Head Island Conservancy. “We support the idea of cautiously supporting the move toward more wind energy off of Bald Head Island.”
Local government interests also expressed their concerns over the visual impacts the turbines could cause for the tourism industry.
However, according to Brian Krevor, an environmental protection specialist for BOEM, a visual simulation study conducted by BOEM concluded the turbines wouldn’t be visible most of the time. Krevor said studies showed when the turbines were located more than 11 miles offshore, they’d be visible about 35 percent of the time during winter and about 28 percent during the summer.
Click here to view what these turbines would look like from the beach in BOEM’s visualization study.
There were still some local concerns about the lights from the turbines at night, but BOEM officials were optimistic about a new technology recently approved by the FAA, which would allow for the lights on the turbines to be triggered only on planes flying at an altitude of 1,000 feet.
The discussions lasted an entire afternoon, and included consistent input from local interests.
“I think this was a great, productive conversation and we appreciated BOEM coming down to North Carolina,” said Stephanie Hawco, energy communications director for the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. “I think this is going to be a great partnership and I think we’ll all be able to keep working together and do it in a way that helps protect the natural resources here in North Carolina.”
According to Jim Bennett, program manager for BOEM’s office of renewable energy, a lease with construction of a wind turbine on the property won’t begin locally for at least another two years. He also estimated it would take another eight years for the final construction over both lease properties off Bald Head Island to be completed.
“That is a very typical estimate due to the planning and the amount of permitting that needs to go into process this project,” said Bennett. “Our [the BOEM] process relies very heavily on intergovernmental task forces such as this one… and I ask that we continue to use this state task force because it’s been a tremendous help with development as we continue to work to bring wind turbines offshore.”
BOEM officials have not stated when the next state task force meeting will be, but all information discussed in today’s meeting can be found on their website here.