Clean Power North Carolina offshore wind potential.

Published on January 25th, 2015 | by Tina Casey


The Great State Of North Carolina Plunges Deeper Into Offshore Wind Energy

January 25th, 2015 by  

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.

North Carolina offshore wind potential.

North Carolina offshore wind potential (courtesy of US DOE).

 Smart From The Start

The US is already racing neck and neck with China for onshore wind domination, but you ain’t seen nothing yet. The US hasn’t even touched its vast offshore wind energy potential yet.

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).

North Carolina wind energy areas

North Carolina wind energy areas (screenshot, courtesy of BOEM).

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.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Yossi Syrah

    Isn’t this one of the most hurricane-prone places in the western hemisphere?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Yep. Good strong winds.

      In an extreme hurricane some rigs will be damaged. But that’s what insurance is for and those costs are factored in.

  • RobMF

    Any info on which companies are lining up for these projects?

  • Matt

    I would have thought for offshore they would be using 100-120 meter height wind speeds. Interesting how much of that area is only 60meters deep. Will have more tower out of the water than in.

    • Henry WA

      Just guessing but I expect the wind speed gain in increasing the tower height from 90m to 120m is less over water as less obstructions from trees, hills etc

  • Martin

    Thank you for all that info! 🙂

  • Martin

    So what would be the total potential for RE energy in the US, broken down into solar, wind onshore, wind offshore, hydro and geothermal?
    I think either one of those 4 would be more than the total energy used now?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Wet rock geothermal is somewhat limited. If we can figure out how to drill the holes we need for enhanced geothermal then that would be an enormous resource.

      We’ve already installed somewhat more than 50% of our hydro potential and that’s giving us about 7% of our electricity needs. Hydro probably can’t get much above 10%.

      Wind and solar, we’ve got far more resources than we could ever use.

      It would take about 150,000 3 MW turbines to produce 40% of the 4,143 TWh (terawatt hours) of electricity the US used in 2010. Foundations, access roads, transmission and ancillary buildings for those 150k turbines would use 36,040 acres. 0.0015% of US land area.

      To produce 40% of 2010 US electricity with PV solar we’d need to cover ~3,250 square miles with 20% efficient panels. That’s ~ 0.1% of contiguous 48 states. Existing rooftops, parking lots and brownfields would be more than enough.

      We’re moving to larger turbines and more efficient solar panels. The 0.0015% and 0.1% areas will shrink. The other 20% would likely come from hydro, geothermal, biomass/gas and tidal. We’re talking an insignificant amount of the available resources.

      • Larmion

        You’re talking about electricity, Martin about energy.

        If you triple everything in your post, you have answered his question nearly perfectly.

        • Bob_Wallace

          3 x 0.1015% = also insignificant. ;o)

          Does your 3x take into account the higher efficiency of EVs, likely decreases in heating/AC needs as we improve buildings, and other efficiency measures?

          Right now we’re wasting more than 50% of the energy we consume. That will change.

          • Larmion

            It doesn’t. I assumed that a strengthening recovery, a potential increase in reshoring and continued population growth will largely offset that.

            All in all there will likely be a slight net decrease in primary energy consumption, but it’s hard to work out exactly how big.

          • Is this taking into account the amount of energy used in fossil fuel exploration, development, production, refining, and transportation? Those will no longer be needed in a renewable future. And don’t forget some role for nuclear and biofuels.

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