North Carolina ready to join coastal wind-power bandwagon

BUXTON, N.C. -- After lagging behind other East Coast states in developing wind as an energy source, North Carolina is preparing to plunge in with a test program with one to three wind towers in Pamlico Sound.

Duke Energy and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill are finishing the details of a contract that would have the company build the towers as early as next year. UNC-CH researchers would use the towers to answer questions about environmental impacts, maintenance and other issues.

The plans were mostly well received Friday by state and local leaders who gathered in Buxton to talk about the possibilities of wind energy. Some Outer Banks residents and business leaders, though, expressed concern about what large wind turbines might do to the ocean views sought by tourists.

Gov. Beverly Perdue told a crowd of a few hundred beach dwellers that North Carolina has a chance to be "a global leader in green energy." She said that would create jobs and help the environment.

But she said North Carolina is in competition with other states pursuing the same economic benefits.

"They want to be the one to get the gold," she said. "North Carolina is going to do as much as we can do as safely as we can do it."

Perdue said earlier in the week that she would appoint a task force to consider the potential for offshore energy, including wind and oil. Perdue said she wants to learn more about the wind project and hear from the public before she decides whether to back it.

Numerous studies say areas off the North Carolina coast would be ideal for wind farming.

UNC-CH researchers completed a study this past summer that suggested that the state aggressively pursue development of wind energy, and recommended using an eastern section of Pamlico Sound, seven to 10 miles from Avon or Hatteras, for a demonstration project.

From shore, the tops of the towers and blades would be visible on the horizon.

"They're still visible," said Harvey Seim, a UNC-CH marine biology professor. "But they're certainly not towering over your house."

Elizabeth Ouzts, state director for Environment North Carolina, is enthusiastic about the potential for offshore wind energy.

"This can be game-changing in terms of renewable energy in North Carolina," she said.


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