Even as Gov. Roy Cooper sets ambitious goals for electricity production from green sources like wind energy, a growing contingent of coastal communities are pushing back with “not in my backyard” concerns.
The complicated, long-running story of wind energy off the Carolinas goes back to 2014 when the federal government’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) first laid it on the table. Now, the effort faces a July 2022 deadline before all offshore energy leases – including oil, natural gas and wind – will be banned in the Atlantic Ocean.
BOEM has proposed two areas off Brunswick County for wind turbine leasing by private companies. The areas account for shipping, military interests, fishing, water depth, average wind speeds and proximity to the electric grid, among other factors.
Areas off of Brunswick and Horry, South Carolina counties are called Wilmington West (52,000 acres) and Wilmington East (134,000 acres). BOEM has announced no specific timeline for offering leases for those areas. For administrative purposes, they are grouped with other areas off the South Carolina coast.
The East area starts slightly more than 11 nautical miles offshore; the West area begins 15.5 nautical miles off the Brunswick coast.
The concept of limiting proximity of turbines to the shore started with the 70-mile-long Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which borders a proposed offshore lease area called Kitty Hawk. Managers of the federal lands asked that wind turbines be at least 24 nautical miles offshore to preserve the viewshed of the first federally protected seashore in the United States. Development is not allowed in the seashore, except for established municipalities and historic sites, access areas and a few minimal facilities, such as restrooms and trash containers.
Leaders of village council at Bald Head Island picked up on that number, and council passed a resolution requesting the same 24-mile buffer zone and Ocean Isle Beach, Sunset Beach and Caswell Beach have passed similar resolutions. The Commonwealth of Virginia has made a parallel request.
Oak Island Mayor Ken Thomas said his town council will also soon be asked to consider the measure.
“I am in favor of wind power,” Thomas said. “I just don’t want to see it or hear it from the beach. I don’t know what the right number is; I just don’t want to see or hear them.”
More wind power
Last month, Gov. Cooper issued an executive order calling for the state to invest more in wind energy and move away from fossil fuels for electricity.
“Offshore wind power will help North Carolina create jobs and generate economic development while helping us transition to a clean energy economy,” Cooper said in a prepared statement. “North Carolina’s national leadership in clean energy and manufacturing plus our highly trained workforce create a strong business environment for offshore wind supply chain and manufacturing companies.”
The order establishes offshore wind development goals of 2.8 gigawatts off the North Carolina coast by 2030 and 8 GW by 2040. Achieving these goals will power roughly 2.3 million homes by 2040.
In addition to creating economic benefits across North Carolina, the development will help achieve the North Carolina Clean Energy Plan goal of a 70-percent reduction in power sector greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050, the governor stated.
“This coordinated approach to developing our offshore wind supply chain will bring new jobs to North Carolina for generations to come,” state Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders said in a prepared statement. “From building out the supply chain, to installing equipment, to operating the wind facilities, North Carolina’s manufacturers and workforce are well positioned to play an integral role in the entire East Coast market, not just for projects directly off the state’s coast.
A bipartisan group of North Carolina U.S. representatives endorsed federal efforts to develop offshore wind energy. Seven members of Congress – more than half the delegation – stated in April they wanted to act quickly and avoid a decade-long moratorium on new wind energy leases set to begin July 2022. Signers included U.S. Rep. David Rouzer, whose 7th District includes Brunswick and New Hanover counties.
The letter from two Republicans and five Democrats acknowledges a recent study commissioned by the N.C. Department of Commerce that found tremendous potential for growth in offshore wind generation. The study stated, in part, that North Carolina could generate far more energy than the state is projected to use in 2035 and could capture future investments exceeding $100-billion in the wind energy business. The study, by industry consultants and N.C. State University, details how North Carolina’s existing ports and other infrastructure could support expansion of wind energy and provides a blueprint for long-term improvements.
The letter from the Congress members asks BOEM to promptly and responsibly advance existing lease areas and identify new ones, if possible.
“The way forward is, as Rep. Rouzer says, ‘All of the above’ with one caveat. Fossil fuels are a dead end and we need to leave that street as quickly as we can. Down the road the bridge is out,” said Pete Key, president of Brunswick Environmental Action Team.
“I again applaud Governor Cooper’s bold leadership in protecting our planet,” said Randy Sturgill, field representative for Oceana, the largest ocean environmental group in the world. “This North Carolina executive order will help move forward the development of offshore wind in North Carolina. Offshore wind should be part of the climate solution and can be done in a responsible manner that ensures protections for critically endangered species like the North Atlantic right whale.”
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