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Winds of Change: NC Offshore Wind Advances

Offshore wind farms are likely along the coast of North Carolina, now that the federal government will make leases available. (
Offshore wind farms are likely along the coast of North Carolina, now that the federal government will make leases available. (
August 16, 2016

WILMINGTON, N.C. - North Carolina is poised to become the next frontier for offshore wind energy. Late last week the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it will lease 122,000 acres off the coast of North Carolina. The lease area begins 24 miles off of the state's coastline, and offers unlimited potential for the creation of clean energy, according to advocates. Among the benefits: reduced carbon emissions as wind energy replaces coal-fired power plants.

Chris Carnevale, the Coastal, Climate and Energy Manager with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said the state's coastline will be among the first to reap the rewards.

"Coastal communities are bearing the brunt of climate change impacts such as sea level rise and ocean acidification so offshore wind farms are a way that we can start down that energy path," he said.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has already issued 11 leases off the shores of New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia. While some people oppose the impact on the natural landscape, supporters point to the increased availability of clean energy and the fact that some areas actually have built a tourism industry around the wind turbines. Before the wind turbines are constructed, private companies must decide the cost is worth their investment and apply for the leases.

Carnevale said wind farms typically generate the most energy in the summer months when the need for electricity is great. Another offshore wind area off the coast of Wilmington will be considered for potential leasing in the future, where Duke and South Carolina utilities may be able to harness the wind. Carnavale added that in North Carolina, much of how consumers will benefit from the offshore wind will depend on how the state's power provider, Duke Energy, participates with wind energy.

"It would require that Duke would have to buy into it," he added. "The energy would be coming onto Duke's system, most likely. Although a lot depends on where the projects ties into the coast, and I think that remains yet to be determined."

Currently Duke Energy has 18 wind farms across the country, generating 2,100 megawatts of wind power. A 2010 federal study found North Carolina's offshore waters to have the strongest wind potential on the East Coast.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC