Wind energy forecasts economic boom for North Carolina

by Daniel Bowden
Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Supplied image courtesy of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management 

This photo simulation indicates what a wind farm of Vestas 7 MW turbines would look like at 10 nautical miles offshore from Oak Island.

Supporters of wind energy development off of the North Carolina coast believe that wind energy is one of the few places where environmental groups and the business community can come together.

“Almost all of the objections people could have to building these wind turbines have been cleared,” said Mac Montgomery, chair of the Cape Fear chapter of the Sierra Club. “We all win on this one.”

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) published a Call for Information and Nominations on Dec. 12 for three lease locations for commercial wind farms — one six miles off the coast of Kitty Hawk, the others seven and 13 miles off the coast of Wilmington — in federal waters. 

Wind farms have been operational in Europe since 1991. The offshore wind energy industry employed 34,232 people in 2010, and is projected to provide nearly 293,746 jobs in the European Union by 2030.

An offshore wind turbine requires more than 8,000 component parts to build. Due to the large size of the turbines, the pieces would need to be constructed nearby, creating jobs locally.

“When you put one of these turbines up,” Montgomery said by telephone last week, “the blades aren’t going to be shipped in from Dallas, Texas. They’re going to be assembled and serviced here, probably out of the Port of Wilmington.”

North Carolina currently receives 55 percent of its energy from coal, which results in billions of dollars leaving the local economy. The development of renewable energy in the state is projected to allow North Carolina to retain those dollars.

David Rogers, field director for Environment North Carolina, sees North Carolina eventually replacing coal altogether.

“As things like coal plants get outdated and need to close,” Rogers said, “it makes more sense to use clean, renewable sources to replace them.”

Since coal plants are more timely and expensive to start and stop, coal currently provides the baseline source of energy for North Carolina, with alternatives such as nuclear and natural gas providing supplemental energy as needed. Rogers would like to see wind energy eventually replacing coal, with other renewable energy sources such as solar and geothermal providing back-up.

“The areas [BOEM] has identified are capable of producing energy well over 90 percent of the time,” Montgomery said. “Even though you may not see any wind on Wrightsville Beach, if there’s even a five to seven mile per hour wind offshore it’s going to turn the turbines.”

A study conducted by Environment North Carolina in June 2012 determined that North Carolina has 2,800 square miles of area conducive to wind energy development. It estimates that if all of that area were to be developed, the energy output could supply 130 percent of what the state used in 2007. The total area of the proposed leasing sites is approximately 1,657 square miles.

Duke Energy, which recently purchased Progress Energy, operates several onshore wind farms in Wyoming, Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which contribute more than 2,000 megawatts of energy around the United States.

Jason Wallace, a spokesman for Duke Energy, said those projects continue to operate well.

A 45-day public comment period began simultaneously with the Call for Information. The public is encouraged to share its voice on the subject either electronically on the BOEM website, in written form or at scheduled public information meetings.

The BOEM will be holding a public information session discussing the details of its recently published Call for Information on Wednesday, Jan. 9, in the Courtyard Marriot Wilmington’s Emerald Room between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. It will be soliciting public comments, as well as discussing the next steps in the environmental, planning and leasing processes.


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