BALD HEAD ISLAND – By the end of 2016, federal officials hope to start offshore wind energy leasing in North Carolina, an effort that could bring turbines to waters off Brunswick County and the Outer Banks.
But the prospect of seeing turbines from the top of Bald Head Island’s lighthouse has some worried – especially after the federal plan was changed in consideration of the Bodie Island Lighthouse. As state and local governments try to push the project further from Brunswick County’s beaches, federal energy officials are tasked with determining whether turbines will still be productive if moved out to sea.
“I think the concern is that the visitors experience the view-shed of a 200-year-old lighthouse,” said Chris Webb, director of the Old Baldy Foundation. “There’s been a concerted effort from the beginning … to have a very harmonious environment, so when you look over the island you don’t see massive structures. You see some rooftops, but mostly what you see is the maritime forest’s color.”
In September, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) published an environmental assessment of its North Carolina wind energy plan. The proposal defined three ocean areas that could be leased to wind energy companies: the Wilmington West and Wilmington East areas, south of Brunswick County, and the Kitty Hawk area off Currituck and Dare counties. The Wilmington West area – about 51,595 acres – starts 11.5 miles from shore and the 133,590-acre Wilmington East area starts 15.5 miles from shore.
Officials shaped and re-shaped both areas to address concerns about whale migration, access to the Port of Wilmington and visibility from shore. But both are far closer to shore than the Kitty Hawk area, which sits 27.6 miles out to sea.
During the design process, the National Parks Service asked BOEM to move the Kitty Hawk area at least 33.7 nautical miles – or just under 39 miles – away from the Bodie Island Lighthouse. BOEM obliged and gave the area its current boundaries.
Unlike the Bodie Island Lighthouse, the Bald Head Island Lighthouse is not managed by the parks service but a public nonprofit – the Old Baldy Foundation.
“We’re an entity without a significant amount of resources because we are not-for-profit, and I don’t think we carry the weight of the National Park Service,” Webb said.
BOEM documents estimate that the wind turbines could sit as close as 12.7 miles and 19.7 miles from Old Baldy. In November, the Old Baldy Foundation passed a resolution asking BOEM to ensure the turbines would not be visible from the lighthouse. The Brunswick County island’s village council had passed a similar resolution in October, and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality went a step further, asking for a statewide buffer of 24 nautical miles from shore.
But moving the Wilmington wind energy areas that far out might defeat their purpose. The current boundaries of the Wilmington West area are entirely within 24 nautical miles of shore, and just a sliver of the Wilmington East would remain if it was cut back that far.
Still, BOEM officials say they’re reviewing the plan and taking Bald Head Island’s and the state’s concerns into account. Will Waskes of BOEM’s Office of Renewable Energy Programs said the boundaries could be changed before a preliminary sale notice is posted this year, and again before the final sale notice is issued.
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