Brunswick County offshore wind farm plans move forward
Bill Franks narrowed his eyes on an unusually warm sunny day in mid-December and gazed out across the Atlantic from the sandy Caswell Beach.
“I support clean energy so it would be nice to have it,” said the Michigan resident, visiting family in Brunswick County for the holidays, when asked if having wind turbines in the coastal waters off the coast of North Carolina would change his perspective. vacation here. ” But I do not know. I guess it depends on what they would look like from here.
That’s the rub for many coastal officials in this pocket of southeastern North Carolina. While most have said they openly support the push for a carbon-free energy future, they also don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs on their savings, namely the ocean views that attract tourists. and a growing number of full-time residents in their seaside towns. .
A new additional environmental assessment is likely to do little to allay the concerns of coastal officials and residents alike that the development of the Wilmington East wind power area, about 17 miles south of Bald Head Island, could ruin the sight of their residents. seaside communities.
With clean energy high on the priority list for President Joe Biden and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, the federal government this month released an updated environmental report on the potential impacts of a park project wind farm off the coast of Brunswick County. Federal action Office of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) stresses a willingness to put offshore wind farms, which have been mired in shifting political winds in recent years, in the water, the agency suggesting that a lease could be issued as early as mid-2022.
The new assessment, which is open for comment until Jan. 7, recommends dividing the Wilmington East area, which covers nearly 128,000 acres, into three rental zones instead of one. According to BOEM, the site could generate up to 1.5 gigawatt (GW) of energy, enough to power up to 500,000 homes. Cooper has said he would like offshore wind to generate 2.8 GW for the state grid by 2030.
The report also includes additional commentary on the North Atlantic right whale, one of the most endangered animals in the world. According to New England Aquarium, the whale population fell to 336 in 2020, an 8% drop from 2019. The marine mammal is known to pass through the area proposed for the Wilmington Wind Farm. The report recommends removing certain areas from the original concession area in order to reduce potential impacts on the whale industry.
âTransformingâ ocean views?
But the report offers little new to allay the concerns of local officials worried about the potential visual pollution from the proposed farm. The draft assessment notes that the industry has moved away from weather towers, which were originally proposed in an earlier assessment to help assess wind and other weather factors, in favor of buoys that have little or no visual impacts. It is planned to examine the visual impacts of actual wind turbine towers, which may to expand more than 500 feet from the ocean surface to the upper end of the blade, would occur later in the review process.
The Wilmington East site was one of three areas initially identified by regulators as possible sites for offshore wind farms. A proposed site closer to the Brunswick shore, dubbed Wilmington West, has been abandoned due to visual pollution concerns. But the third site, off the Outer Banks, is moving forward, with the 122,000-acre parcel. rented to Avangrid Renewables in 2017. Construction plans have since been submitted to BOEM for review.
The Outer Banks site, about 42 km east of Kitty Hawk, also raised concerns about the view of the coastline when it was first offered, including by the National Park Service. The result was that the farm was pushed further from the coast.
Brunswick County officials have requested a similar amendment for the Wilmington East project, with little success so far.
On August 3, Brunswick County Commissioners joined with seaside towns across the county in adopting a resolution oppose any wind turbine located within 24 nautical miles (27 miles) of the coast.
“Wind turbines located in the Brunswick County beach viewing basin would hurt tourism and the county’s economy by turning views of the open ocean into views of massive industrial machinery,” the resolution said.
Even as some officials ruminate on the potential negative impacts of offshore wind farms, others examine the economic potential that the arrival of the industry could bring to the region.
One of these groups is the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, which was recently recognized by the Innovation and Clean Energy Chambers for its community discussions on the opportunities presented by the growth of the clean energy industry.
House CEO Natalie English said her organization has yet to take a position on the Wilmington East wind farm project. But the economic potential is hard to ignore.
“We are very intrigued by the investments and job creation that could accompany the project,” English said by email. “We plan to learn more about the project in 2022.”
Matt Abele, spokesperson for NC Sustainable Energy Association, said that while the idea of ââbusiness-friendly chambers of commerce embracing clean energy ideas might not come naturally to some, it makes perfect business sense.
âInnovative Chambers recognize the growth opportunities associated with clean energy and see how fast the industry is growing,â he said, noting that it already supports more than 112,000 jobs across the state. . “And in some cases, they have been strong advocates and worked with their city leaders to promote these economic development opportunities.”
This can be especially important when many of these new and emerging economic opportunities are not your typical, more traditional business developments, such as solar farms and, in the case of the coast, offshore wind, Abele added.
With active proposals for offshore wind farms for nearly every state on the east coast between Massachusetts and Georgia, North Carolina could be well positioned to capitalize on the growth of the emerging industry. A March 2021 presentation by the North Carolina Department of Commerce dubbed “Building the North Carolina Offshore Wind Supply Chain”, highlighted the state’s industrial base already involved in wind turbine production and port facilities that could help it serve offshore farms. The sites included the state ports of Wilmington and Morehead City, the 600-acre undeveloped public area north of Southport that was once proposed for an international port, and several smaller facilities in and around the Outer Banks.
âThese are truly an exciting times for North Carolina and one that offers significant economic opportunities,â said Abele. “And if we can get a clean source of energy and good quality jobs, it really is a win-win situation.”
Journalist Gareth McGrath can be reached at [email protected] or @GarethMcGrathSN on Twitter. This story was produced with the financial support of 1Earth Fund and the Prentice Foundation. The USA TODAY network retains full editorial control of the work.