Wind farms off Wilmington, North Carolina may not be built for a decade

Two companies, one based in North Carolina and the other French, agreed last week to pay the federal government more than $300 million to lease two parcels of empty ocean about 20 miles off the coast of southeastern North Carolina. The plan is to dot the empty seascape with wind turbines that could reach 800 feet into the sky, helping to power up to 500,000 homes with clean, renewable green energy.

It’s an ambitious goal, especially for a country that has been notoriously slow compared to its Western peers to jump on the offshore renewables bandwagon due to a host of economic, environmental, political and not-even-my-own concerns. court (NIMBY) .

So when will spinning turbines start producing clean energy for the North Carolina power grid?

Well, it depends on a host of factors, experts say. But even if everything falls into place, power production from Brunswick County fields by the end of the decade would be an aggressive schedule. An earlier lease proposal to develop a 2.5 gigawatt (GW) wind farm 27 miles from the Outer Banks was won by Avangrid Renewables in 2017. Construction of the project, which could eventually power 700,000 homes in the northeast of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, could start around 2026, according to a company chronology.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has auctioned off the two wind power rental sites off the coast of Brunswick County for a combined $315 million.

However, nothing is guaranteed for energy companies or wind funders.

“You are absolutely taking a risk,” said Katharine Kollins, president of the Southeast Wind Coalitiona non-profit organization that advocates for the development of wind energy in the southeastern United States “It’s a big risk.”

She said many things can go wrong, from getting the many permits, regulatory approvals and funding for wind farms to maintaining investor confidence and even political support for projects that may take years to materialize. shape.

But building an onshore pipeline can be just as risky, if not more so, as proponents of the old Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would have carried natural gas from West Virginia and Virginia to the United States, can attest. eastern North Carolina, Kollins said. And pressure is mounting on many levels for energy companies to do more to reduce human-induced global warming.

Developers: With pipeline cancellation, major factories will dump eastern North Carolina

“If we really want to move to a decarbonized electric grill, we need to find ways to move away from fossil fuels,” she said.

Navigating the potential hiccups was brought up by Stephen De May, president of Duke Energy North Carolinain a press release after U.S. Office of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced that the Charlotte-based utility has won the bid for one of two Brunswick County offshore rental sites.

“As we continue to assess the area and potential for the project, we look forward to listening and learning from the various stakeholders and community members in the area to ensure that we think through all aspects of the potential project” , did he declare.

Wind turbines:What would they look like off the coast of Brunswick?

One group closely watching the government’s growing efforts to develop offshore wind farms along the US East Coast is the Center for Biological Diversity. The group and other environmental organizations are particularly concerned about the potential impacts on the North Atlantic right whale, of which fewer than 400 individuals remain. Center spokeswoman Kristen Monsell said offshore wind projects are being proposed across the whale’s range, from New England to the southeast.

“(The government) appears to ignore the cumulative impacts of being forced to navigate multiple projects in their particular habitat,” she said by email. “Right whales provide many benefits to our oceans, and we need to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to protect them.”

A 2018 photo shows a North Atlantic right whale feeding off Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Nantucket Residents Against Wind Turbines are suing to block construction of wind turbines that the group says pose a risk to endangered whales.

Build an industry

Along with Duke, the other successful bidder last week was TotalEnergies Renewables USA, a Paris subsidiary TotalEnergies. This lease in North Carolina follows the award in February of a lease to develop a 3 GW wind farm off New York and New Jersey.

“Achieving this lease, our second offshore wind project in the United States, demonstrates the strength of our commitment to the country and our transformation into a multi-energy company,” said Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of TotalEnergies, in a statement. communicated.

Like TotalEnergies, Duke is feeling pressure from investors, politicians and even customers to expand its “green energy” portfolio.

But unlike other states – such as New York, New Jersey and Virginia – which require that a certain percentage of power be produced from offshore wind power, North Carolina lets the State Utilities Commission determining the best way to achieve a 70% carbon rate. reducing power plants by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. Governor Roy Cooper, however, has set targets for offshore wind development of 2.8 GW off the North Carolina coast of by 2030 and 8 GW by 2040, enough energy to power around 2.3 million homes.

This lack of legally binding commitments is one reason why the recent auction of six rental sites off the coast of New York and New Jersey, in an area known as the New York Blight, brought in $4.4 billion for the US government, far more than Washington earned in the lease of the two North Carolina sites.

Duke released its proposed carbon plan on Monday, which included using 800 to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power in three of four options to reduce emissions.

Unique among offshore wind power lease bids to date, Brunswick County’s auction included a 20% credit for bidders who committed to programs or initiatives that support the company’s training programs. workforce for the offshore wind industry, the development of a US national supply chain for the offshore wind energy industry. , or both. According to BOEM, the two recent leases in North Carolina will generate $42 million for the programs.

While it’s up to Duke and Total to see where they spend the money, it will likely be somewhere within reasonable distance of the wind farm locations. A site that has already been launched by state officials as possible coastal hub for the offshore wind industry is Radio Island, a site between Morehead City and Beaufort in Carteret County where the NC Ports Authority owns 154 acres of undeveloped land.

In environmental documents submitted last month, the ports suggested facilities that could be built at Radio Island include a 200,000 square foot offshore wind equipment manufacturing plant and 100,000 square feet of warehouse space. A pier that the ports already have in place could also be modified to accommodate ro-ro ships, new berthing acres would be added, and additional rail spur construction would be built. The property already sits on a 45ft canal with easy and close access to the Atlantic, a valuable selling point as many of the wind towers and giant blades are so tall they cannot realistically be transported except by water.

The country's only offshore wind farm is located off Rhode Island, where five turbines are located near Block Island.

The Cooper administration appeared to double down on Radio Island when the governor proposed including $20 million for infrastructure improvements at the site in his 2022-23 budget proposal released last week, though any spending would require the GOP-controlled General Assembly approval.

But offshore wind isn’t the only industry state officials say could work on Radio Island. Officials also mentioned facilities to support the automotive industry as opportunities for the site. VinFast, a Vietnam-based automaker, announced plans in March to build its first production plant in the United States near the Triangle. To land the Vietnamese company, North Carolina wooed it with nearly $800 million in job creation incentives and site preparation work. Chatham County also pledged $400 million in property tax relief.

Journalist Gareth McGrath can be reached at [email protected] or @GarethMcGrathSN on Twitter. This story was produced with financial support from 1Earth Fund and the Prentice Foundation. The USA TODAY Network retains full editorial control of the work.

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