The federal government recently announced it will lease 122,000 acres off North Carolina’s coast for wind energy development. The site has been named the Kitty Hawk Energy Area and lies about 24 miles off the shores of the Outer Banks.
North Carolina has become a dual threat renewable state. The state is leading the way in solar energy and will have an on-shore wind farm online by the end of the year. All signs point to developing offshore wind in the coming years, too.
So, what exactly does this news about offshore wind development mean for North Carolina? Nothing but benefits. We just have to look up the East Coast for reference.
The United States’ first offshore wind farm is set to start operating this fall off the coast of Rhode Island. Though small in turbine count, the project has been making waves for its energy harnessing potential and economic impact.
The five-turbine, 30-megawatt project has created 200 temporary construction jobs and will require dozens of permanent positions for maintenance and day-to-day operations. Analysts predict the project will generate over $100 million in economic activity for the state. Keep in mind this project has just five turbines, capable of powering 17,000 homes.
Deepwater Wind, the developer of the Block Island wind farm, has high hopes for future development projects and the potential of offshore wind in the U.S.
“Building an offshore wind industry in the U.S. will create thousands of American jobs. Today, the offshore wind industry in Europe employs nearly 60,000 workers. There are approximately 2,500 wind turbines spinning in the ocean off the coast of Europe today, but none yet in the United States,” the company’s website said. “Developing an offshore wind industry right here in America will increase our nation’s competitiveness in the energy sector, revitalize industrial ports, bolster the manufacturing sector, and create good, high-paying, jobs in the years to come.”
Now, back to the white, sandy southern shores of North Carolina and future home to 122,000 acres of wind development. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s recent study found that North Carolina has the higher offshore wind energy potential than any other state on the East Coast, meaning offshore wind farms off our coast would be more lucrative than any other state.
Comparing the Numbers
Let’s compare size to potential here. The Block Island wind farm sits on a 2 square kilometer plot of ocean, which converts to a little more than 494 acres. A literal drop in the bucket compared to the ocean acreage to be auctioned off for development in NC. The aforementioned 122,000 acres converts to 493 square kilometers. This shows that the Kitty Hawk wind zone is 246.5 times larger than the Block Island wind farm. If we multiply the Block Island numbers by this amount, the area of development could potentially hold 1,232 turbines for a 3,690-megawatt project, providing power for more 4,182,000 homes. Now those are powerful numbers.
There has been speculation that offshore wind would cause damage to the travel and tourism industry along the NC coast, but this is simply not true. The potential development area would be so far off the coast, people standing on North Carolina beaches wouldn’t be able to see any wind turbines. A six-foot-tall person standing at sea level can see a little more than 3 miles away. Wilmington, one of our state’s most popular coastal cities, has an elevation of 30 feet, which will do very little to affect how far one can see. The coastline beauty would be preserved.
The Tar Heel state currently has 27 manufacturers spread from the mountains to the sea that employ more than 1,700 North Carolinians in the manufacturing supply chain of wind energy components. As the state gets more involved with wind energy and wind projects start to dot the state, these manufacturing plants will become even more essential for the industry’s growth. Jobs will be created not only in manufacturing, but in other areas like construction, research and development, and installation, just to name a few.
The winds of change seem to be blowing into North Carolina.