Three tracts of federal ocean waters totaling approximately 300,000 acres off of the coast of North Carolina are one step closer to becoming the state’s first offshore wind farms.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced Aug. 11 outlines of the three areas: one 24 nautical miles offshore from Kitty Hawk and two around 10 nautical miles offshore from the mouth of the Cape Fear River. The Kitty Hawk Wind Energy Area totals 122,405 acres, the Wilmington West Wind Energy area totals 51,595 acres and the Wilmington East Wind Energy Area totals 133,590 acres.
Following the designation of the areas, bureau spokesperson Tracy Moriarty said the next step would be the environment assessment of the three tracts, which is expected to take a year.
“We do that review as required by [the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency]and there are all sorts of things considered from environmental to socioeconomic impacts,” Moriarty said during a Tuesday, Aug. 26 phone interview. “At that point, if we decide to go forward with the wind energy sale notice, we can then solicit additional companies.”
A total of five utility companies expressed interest in the lease of the tracts when the initial call for interested companies was released. Those companies included Outer Banks Ocean Energy, LLC; Green Sail Energy, LLC; Fisherman’s Energy, LLC; EDF Renewable Development Inc.; and Virginia Electric and Power Company.
While the federal environmental study is ongoing, Brian O’Hara, Southeastern Coastal Wind Coalition president, said his nonprofit informational organization would continue to work on expanding the Kitty Hawk tract, which was cut significantly due to shipping concerns from the U.S. Coast Guard and visibility concerns from the U.S. National Parks Service.
“We think there is an opportunity to add some area back into that based on what they selected as a visual buffer from the Bodie Island Lighthouse as requested by the national parks service,” O’Hara said during a Tuesday, Aug. 26 phone interview. “I think we will find a 34-mile buffer is unnecessarily large.”
One obstacle offshore wind energy faces in North Carolina is the lack of an established market for the product, which O’Hara said his organization will also continue to work to develop by hopefully answering some of the questions that still remain.
“There have been a lot of studies done over the past several years but there are some questions you have a hard time answering until you actually do it,” he said. “One of the ways to do that is to do a smaller scale demonstration project and that is something we are exploring with various stakeholders.”
A small-scale test site could help in demonstrating exactly how and what offshore wind energy would look like in North Carolina. Such a pilot project could involve a combined regional effort between the southeastern states identified for wind energy possibilities like South Carolina and Georgia, O’Hara said.
“Since we haven’t done offshore wind yet, there are a lot of questions and we need to figure out how to answer those questions to see if this can be a large scale, viable electricity resource for us in the future,” he said.