Interior targets parcels off N.C. coast for development

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Obama administration is ramping up efforts to expand offshore wind energy development in the Atlantic Ocean off North Carolina, an area that previous studies estimated could support nearly 300,000 megawatts of power production.

The Interior Department today said it has established three so-called wind energy areas off the North Carolina coast, totaling about 307,590 acres, which would be potentially suitable for commercial-scale wind power production.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called the identification of the three wind energy areas “an important step forward” in the department’s ongoing efforts to harness “the vast wind energy potential along the Atlantic Coast to power homes and strengthen our clean energy economy.”

“This milestone is the result of collaboration with stakeholders and partners at all levels to identify areas off the coast with great resource potential while also minimizing conflicts with other important uses,” Jewell said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the state of North Carolina, industry and a broad range of stakeholders as this exciting process continues to further commercial wind development in the United States.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said one of the wind energy areas is 24 miles off the coast of Kitty Hawk, N.C., and two are 10 miles and 15 miles off the Wilmington, N.C., coastline, called the Wilmington West and East areas, respectively. The Kitty Hawk Wind Energy Area covers about 122,000 acres, the Wilmington West Wind Energy Area covers 51,000 acres and Wilmington East covers 133,000 acres, according to BOEM.

It is not clear whether BOEM is planning to hold a competitive lease sale in the area; an agency spokeswoman could not be reached for comment before publication time.

But today’s announcement follows a formal request by Interior in December 2012 to gauge industry interest in building wind farms in the three areas.

A 2010 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that North Carolina waters could support nearly 300,000 MW (Greenwire, Dec. 14, 2012).

And the announcement comes a little more than a week before BOEM plans to hold a competitive auction for projects off the Maryland coastline next week. It also plans to hold competitive auctions in wind energy areas off the Massachusetts and New Jersey coastlines in the coming year, the agency announced.

BOEM already has awarded five commercial wind energy leases in the Atlantic off the coastlines of Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia. Three competitive leases last year off the Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia coastlines generated more than $5 million for more than 277,000 acres in federal waters.

Walter Cruickshank, BOEM’s acting director, said in a statement that North Carolina’s wind energy area represents another “significant step forward in facilitating the responsible development of renewable, clean energy offshore the United States.”

BOEM will complete an environmental assessment of the area to determine potential impacts with commercial-scale leases in the three wind energy areas, according to an Interior Department statement on the issue.

BOEM worked closely with the Coast Guard to ensure that the areas do not pose a potential navigational hazard and with the National Park Service to ensure that offshore wind turbines do not create visual impacts to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Bodie Island Lighthouse, the agency said.

BOEM is considering possible leases only in the North Carolina energy areas, and any leases that are issued would require additional site-specific environmental analysis before the projects can proceed to the construction phase.