Study: N.C. has 'great potential' for offshore wind power

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 1, 2010 

WASHINGTON — North Carolina could have the most viable offshore wind power on the East Coast, with the ability to bring power to hundreds of thousands of homes and generate up to 20,000 new manufacturing jobs, according to a new study by the National Wildlife Foundation.

The state has “great potential” for offshore wind power, thanks to its shallow waters, lengthy coastline and excellent wind speeds, according to a report released this morning by the National Wildlife Foundation.

That’s based on studies from the Department of Energy and UNC-Chapel Hill.

The Department of Energy’s “20 percent by 2030” report predicts that five to 10 gigawatts of energy could come from the Tar Heel coastline. The state could gain 10,000 to 20,000 manufacturing jobs, according to the report, “Offshore Winds in the Atlantic.”

The study shows North Carolina could generate 140 gigawatts in shallow waters of less than 30 meters deep, the easiest spots for building turbines.

Of that, some 55.9 gigawatts could be economically viable, the study said.

South Carolina follows, with 85.9 potential gigawatts in shallow waters, 34.3 gigawatts of that viable.

The report found up to six gigawatts of offshore wind projects have been proposed along the Atlantic coast - the equivalent of about five coal-fired power plants and enough to power about 1.5 million average U.S. homes.

Based on government analysis, the Atlantic Ocean has “significant offshore wind potential,” with more than 212 gigawatts of wind resources in shallow waters where current technology is best suited, the report said.

The report was supported by 40 organizations, including a utility workers’ union.

“This is about making changes in public policy and in the hearts and minds of the public,” said Curtis Fisher, who wrote the report for the National Wildlife Foundation, in a conference call with reporters.

Private companies already are expressing interest in N.C. coastline.

Apex Wind Energy has applied for a federal exploratory lease for 216 square miles of ocean more than 20 miles off the coastline. The project could use more than 500 turbines, generating enough energy to power 550,000 homes.

The first phase of the project, which could cost $3 billion could begin as early as 2015, according to the study.

Progress Energy Carolinas signed a deal in June to develop a three-year study of the coastline’s wind potential, working with UNC-Chapel Hill.

But Duke Energy this summer killed its proposal to develop an offshore wind project with UNC-Chapel Hill to put three demonstration turbines at the coastline.

The report cautions that southern Atlantic states have not pushed the aggressive renewable energy initiatives of their northern brethren.

North Carolina’s renewable energy standard is 12 percent by 2021, “a low bar,” the report says. New Jersey’s is 22.5 percent in the same time frame, and New York expects to reach 20 percent as soon as 2015.

North Carolina also poses risks, including its proclivity to get hit by hurricanes. Electricity costs in the South also are relatively low, which could discourage investment.

“The barriers as they stand now are great,” said Rob Sargent, energy program director of Environment America. “If nothing changes, we’re unlikely to see any significant offshore wind before 2020.”

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