North Carolina is forging ahead with plans to hop on the East Coast offshore wind energy bandwagon — not that the state’s lawmakers have any choice in the matter. The Interior Department has been leasing large swaths of federal waters for offshore wind development, and North Carolina just happens to be one in a series.
For the Atlantic Coast as a whole, we’re talking about an estimated 1,000 gigawatts in potential offshore wind energy. To give you an idea what that means for the US energy supply, that’s just about equal to the total installed capacity in the entire country. Somewhat ironically given the connectivity between its elected officials and the fossil energy lobby, North Carolina is now part and parcel of the East Coast wind energy juggernaut.
Smart From The Start
The North Carolina lease is part of the Obama Administration’s Smart from the Start offshore wind energy initiative, which aims at coordinating and streamlining development of designated Wind Energy Areas (WEAs).
We took note last year when the leasing process began, partly because it enabled the Administration to prod offshore wind development forward even in states that have not been particularly friendly to wind.
New Jersey, for example, had agreed to promote wind development under the 2010 Atlantic Coast Wind Consortium, but since then the state’s governor (yes, this guy) has stymied any forward movement. For the record, New Jersey’s governor has consistently blown off major emissions-related initiatives including the long-planned ARC tunnel mass transit project and the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative among others, so he’s not just picking on wind.
In a similar pattern, while North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has “voiced” support for wind development, given the reach of fossil fuel lobbyists in the state it’s unclear that his office has taken any steps to actually help that come about.
Offshore Wind Energy For North Carolina
Based on figures collected by federal agencies, the Southeastern Coastal Wind Coalition makes a tight case for exploiting North Carolina’s offshore wind potential.
The four coastal states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia have 82 percent of the total Atlantic coast wind potential in shallow water (defined as being at least 12 miles offshore, so not too shallow). These four states also have some of the lowest construction costs for offshore wind turbines all along the eastern seaboard, and they’re among the largest and fastest-growing electricity markets.
The WEAs for North Carolina were designated last summer pending a final environmental assessment. For those of you keeping score at home, the total comes to more than 300,000 acres divided among three parcels: Kitty Hawk (122,405 acres), Wilmington West (51,595 acres), and Wilmington East (about 133,590 acres).
The latest development occurred last week, when Interior announced the completion of its environmental assessment.
The assessment takes into consideration viewsheds (that’s fancyspeak for “nice view,”) and habitat conservation as well as potential conflicts with shipping, fishing, military activities, and other uses.
The next step is a 30-day public comment period and the clock began ticking on January 23 so if you have anything to say about it, check out Interior’s website.
More And More Offshore Wind Energy
In its North Carolina announcement, Interior offered up a recap of its progress so far on competitive offshore leases administered by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM):
To date, BOEM has awarded seven commercial wind energy leases off the Atlantic coast: two non-competitive leases (Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound off Massachusetts and an area off Delaware) and five competitive leases (two offshore Massachusetts-Rhode Island, two offshore Maryland and another offshore Virginia).
Interior also made clear that a recent setback for Cape Wind won’t stop offshore development in Massachusetts. The state is scheduled for a competitive lease sale auction later this month.
As for New Jersey, the Fisherman’s Energy wind project has also faced some obstacles, but even if that project doesn’t go through there is wind energy in New Jersey’s destiny. BOEM is also planning a lease sale for the state later this year.