The call for information and nominations published by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Dec. 12, 2012 came to a close on March 15. The five companies formally expressing interest in offshore wind development for three potential lease locations — one six miles off Kitty Hawk, the others approximately 15 miles off Bald Head Island and seven miles off Sunset Beach — for commercial wind farms in the federal waters off the North Carolina Coast are the Virginia Power and Electric Company; EDF Renewable Development, Inc, a subsidiary of a French company; New Jersey-based companies Fishermen’s Energy LLC and Green Sail Energy LLC; and the Outer Banks Ocean Energy LLC, which was acquired by Apex Wind Energy Holdings in June 2011.
“Now that we know we have competitive interest, we can begin a competitive lease process,” said a spokesperson for the BOEM.
Before the competitive leasing process can begin, BOEM officials must review the comments and tweak the proposed leasing areas to reflect concerns voiced by the public. BOEM has also begun an environmental impact study to identify any potential negative environmental impacts.
Several North Carolina government officials have voiced their support for offshore wind energy development during the past couple of months.
On Feb. 28, U.S. Senator Kay Hagan and U.S. Congressmen David Price and Mike McIntyre signed a letter addressed to the U.S. Department of the Interior urging it to move quickly in developing the state’s offshore resources. The letter states that offshore wind energy enjoys “broad public support” in the state.
Gov. Pat McCrory showed his support as well, signing another letter addressed to the U.S. Department of the Interior alongside Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, which stated they, “hope you will ensure that the Administration is a partner with the states on this issue.”
In a letter submitted to the BOEM during the public comment period, McCrory elaborated: “I believe an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy plan that includes wind is vital to a prosperous energy future in North Carolina. I have pledged to establish a partnership with neighboring states to develop offshore resources and recruit companies to bring a much-needed infusion of energy, jobs and investment to the state,” McCrory stated.
A study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that developing North Carolina’s offshore wind energy resources could generate $22 billion in new economic activity and create as many as 10,000 permanent jobs.
In his letter to the BOEM, McCrory stated that North Carolina is already well positioned to take advantage of wind energy economically. The state already hosts three companies — ABB makes power cables, Nucor makes steel plates required for wind energy towers and PPG makes fiberglass for turbine blades — that could expand to meet the needs of the industry.
Concerns, which arose during the public comment period, include impacts of construction and placement of turbines on the migrations of species, possible interference with radar communication and view shed concerns.
The Town of Kitty Hawk requested that the closest turbines be at least 20 miles from its coast, as opposed to six.
The BOEM was not willing to make an estimate as to how soon North Carolina citizens could expect to see wind turbines erected on the coast. In the meantime, Virginia, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are slightly ahead of North Carolina in the process, and the BOEM is committed to having a lease sale in those states later on this year.