The new federal review of an area planned for wind energy eliminates spots closest to Brunswick County beaches and splits the remaining site into three pieces. The area considered for leasing – Wilmington East – starts about 15 nautical miles south of Bald Head Island.
The new review incorporates information gleaned since the 2015 federal study but the conclusions are the same – the Wilmington East site has tremendous potential to generate energy at no significant impact to the environment, tourism and fishing industries.
It’s worth noting that the Kitty Hawk wind area lease (the other area in the Carolinas) will net $9-million in revenues to the government, even if wind turbines are not put into function.
Granting the local lease would not be a done deal. There are a host of site-specific studies and permits needed to move forward with construction.
How they look
The updated supplement to the 73-page environmental assessment concludes that impacts to sea life, recreation and tourism would be minor at most.
“The WEAs (wind energy areas) were designed to minimize effects on the viewshed and primary recreational resources; therefore, effects on tourism and recreation, as a result of meteorological tower and buoy placement, also were anticipated to be negligible to minor,” the report stated.
The report also said, “the 2015 (study) concluded that the overall visibility of meteorological towers was expected to be relatively minimal when viewed from shoreline locations (occupying less than 1-percent of the visible seascape), even when viewed from higher elevations. Atmospheric haze reduces visibility and wave action can obscure objects very low on the horizon. Limits to human visual acuity also reduce the ability to discern objects at great distances, and nighttime lighting on the meteorological towers would be similar to lights visible from existing vessel traffic. The 2015 EA (environmental assessment) also concluded that meteorological buoys would not be visible from onshore locations. Based on the foregoing, the visual resource impacts associated with site characterization surveys and site assessment activities were anticipated to be negligible.”
BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) stated that this has not changed since the earlier assessment. The lease area does not include artificial reefs or area of concern by the Department of Defense and places considered critical to migration by North Atlantic Right Whales (one of the planet’s most-endangered species).
Mitigation and protection
BOEM stated it has incorporated several measures to respond to local concerns, including:
* Analysis of the potential harmful effects of wind power generation on birds and other fauna that depend upon the offshore ecosystem;
• Incorporating mitigation efforts in a lease agreement;
• Setting vessel speed restrictions;
• Analysis of the potential conflict with the Coast Guard’s proposed Atlantic Coast Fairway;
• Engaging the local communities;
• Defining BMPs (Best Management Practices) throughout the regulatory process; and
• Enhancing the data collection for future offshore wind energy facility siting.
There are two proposed lease areas, Wilmington East and Wilmington West, which are both offshore past the three-mile demarcation between state and federal waters.
Brunswick County and several beach communities, including Oak Island, Caswell Beach and Bald Head Island, have asked the federal government to restrict wind turbine placement to no closer than 24 nautical miles from shore. Their concern is that windmills could detract from the viewshed of the beach.
This request, if granted, precludes all of the Wilmington West lease area. The west area is not up for consideration at this time. What is on the table is Wilmington East, a 127,865-acre area that could be leased in three separate portions.
BOEM stated that the Wilmington East area has the potential to produce 1.5-gigawatts of energy, enough to power 500,000 homes. Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration has stated it would like to see about twice that much wind power in the grid by 2030.
BOEM has further stated that leasing agreements could include credits for local workforce training and improvements to the supply chain for wind energy.
After the close of public notice, BOEM stated it would publish a final notice of sale.
BOEM’s draft (report) assesses the potential impacts from the issuance of commercial leases within the Wilmington East lease area. Potential impacts include those that could occur from site characterization activities (shallow hazards, geological, geotechnical, archeological, and biological surveys of the lease area and potential cable routes) and site assessment activities (installation and operation of meteorological buoys) associated with issuing wind energy leases in the WEA.
BOEM will accept public comment on the supplemental environmental assessment until midnight on Friday, January 7, 2022. Those who wish to comment should visit https://www.boem.gov and navigate to the renewable energy section associated with Carolina Long Bay.
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