North Carolina is one step closer to developing its immense offshore wind energy potential. Yesterday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced three Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) off the coast of North Carolina. The three WEAs, totaling 307,590 acres, have been identified as areas suitable for potential offshore wind energy development. That much area could potentially contain up to 6,200 megawatts of offshore wind energy capacity – or about six nuclear power plants worth.
The three WEAs are as follows:
Kitty Hawk WEA: Kitty Hawk is the furthest offshore, approximately 24 miles off the northern coast and totaling 122,000 acres.
Wilmington West WEA: This WEA is 51,000 acres and is the closest onshore, located 10 miles off the coast of Wilmington and close to the South Carolina border.
Wilmington East WEA: The last WEA is further off Wilmington (about 15 miles offshore), and is the largest with the total area close to 133,000 acres.
We commend BOEM and North Carolina for taking this significant step towards offshore wind energy development. Offshore wind energy is a clean and inexhaustible resource that would reduce air pollution, preserve precious water resources, and reduce carbon emissions. However, these WEAs are greatly reduced from what was originally proposed due to perceived interference with shipping lanes, visual aesthetics, and wildlife impacts. BOEM previously estimated that North Carolina contained approximately 24,000 megawatts of offshore wind potential, or about four times more potential than the current Wind Energy Areas designated.
The announcement does not mean that an offshore wind farm for North Carolina is imminent. The areas designated by BOEM are only for “Site Assessment Planning,” meaning the areas will be available to be studied for up to five years. A wind farm development company would need to lease a particular area offshore, then submit a Site Assessment Plan to BOEM for review and consideration, and after studying the site, a wind farm developer may or may not decide to move forward on a Construction and Operations Plan. Then the developer would have to secure an offshore wind lease from BOEM and conduct an environmental impact statement prior to construction and operation of a wind farm.
While an offshore wind farm in North Carolina is still not guaranteed, wind energy advocates hope to see competitive lease sales of these areas in the near future. In the past year, BOEM has awarded competitive lease sales for Massachusetts, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Virginia. Five wind energy companies have already expressed interest in developing offshore wind farms in North Carolina. BOEM’s recent announcement is a significant step, but the journey has just begun.
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