Update, January 28 – The deadline for comments has been extended to March 7. Submit comments here.
Things are moving in the realm of offshore wind energy in North Carolina. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) recently announced that it intends to prepare an environmental assessment (EA) for three large areas off of North Carolina’s coast in preparation for potential wind energy development and has asked for input on these areas. See the announcements here and here and SACE’s blog on the topic here. This action is one of the first steps by BOEM in making the areas available for leasing to wind energy developers.
The EA will consider the environmental effects associated with the initial stages of site assessment and research leading up to wind farm development, for example geological and geophysical surveys and biological surveys. BOEM is seeking public input regarding the environmental or socioeconomic issues to be analyzed. If a lease was issued to a commercial developer after the completion of this EA, an additional round of environmental analysis and public input would need to be completed before any construction of a wind farm could commence. The public can submit comments to BOEM via Regulations.gov or through SACE’s website by February 28. Specifically, BOEM is seeking comments on:
- the resources and issues BOEM should analyze in its EA
- alternatives that BOEM should include in its EA
- information on multiple uses of the Call areas, including vessel use and fishing
- feedback on the potential visual impacts of offshore wind turbines located in the Call areas
As part of BOEM’s commitment to getting public input, the agency swung down to North Carolina for a visit earlier this month. They held public forums in Kitty Hawk and Wilmington to talk about the proposed EA and to ask for public comments. I was able to attend the forum in Wilmington on January 9 and deliver comments on behalf of SACE. The meeting was well-attended–about 70 people in the room with standing room only–and included six presentations on: 1) the basics of offshore wind, 2) progress to date on offshore wind in North Carolina, 3) why offshore wind can work in North Carolina and the Southeast, 4) BOEM’s offshore renewable energy process, 5) Development of the North Carolina Call Areas, and 6) North Carolina NOI and BOEM’s environmental process. After the presentations and questions, the floor was opened to public comments. The comments offered were unanimously in favor of bringing offshore wind to the area. We heard from a people representing a range of interests, from State Representative Susi Hamilton (D-18) to a representative from a local technical college hoping for workforce development opportunities to a 13 year old girl stating that she knew that we need to get away from fossil fuels lest her generation pay the price. It was heartening to hear the community come out in such support for such a promising industry.
The following night, BOEM hosted an event showcasing a very interesting visualization study that sought to represent as accurately as possible what wind farm development might look like at various points along the North Carolina coast. To complete this project, BOEM contracted with landscape architecture firm T.J. Boyle Associates, who were very helpful in explaining their findings and methodology. The study, the results of which can be found here, depicted wind farm scenarios at 18 different locations spanning approximately 300 miles of coast with four different lighting conditions (morning, afternoon, starlit night, and misty night), three different distances from shore (10, 15, and 20 nautical miles), and two turbine models of differing sizes. In all scenarios, regardless of turbine size, 200 turbines were assumed to be the size of the wind farm. Please take a look at some of the results and send your feedback to BOEM via Regulations.gov or through SACE’s website. Keep in mind that a small computer screen is not the ideal way to view these images and video, so be sure to read the study for best viewing conditions.
As we continue through this process, SACE is hopeful that offshore wind in North Carolina and the Southeast will supply a substantial portion of our electricity needs. North Carolina has as much as 42,000 feasible megawatts of offshore wind potential, 24,000 of which are included in BOEM’s Call areas. This amount of wind potential would allow North Carolina to meet the Department of Energy’s goal of 20 percent wind power and could even allow North Carolina to be a power exporter. The added benefits of wind power are that it does not pollute and does not use vast amounts of water for electricity generation like many power plants do. We are hopeful that BOEM and North Carolina move swiftly on the opportunity of offshore wind for creating green jobs, diversifying the state’s energy portfolio, and becoming a leader in the emerging clean energy economy.
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