NC Gov. Cooper sets ambitious targets, the state’s first, for offshore wind development

Source: By Adam Wagner, The News & Observer • Posted: Thursday, June 10, 2021

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper has announced the state’s first-ever targets for offshore wind energy development as part of an executive order, the latest in a series of steps to move the still-fledgling industry forward.

North Carolina’s newly announced targets are 2.8 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 8 gigawatts by 2040. Meeting the goal of 8 gigawatts by 2040 would power about 2.3 million homes with offshore wind, according to a press release from Cooper’s office.

Much of the 2030 goal could be attained by the construction of a project that has already been leased off of the Outer Banks with a capacity of about 2.5 megawatts, with the rest coming from the beginning stages of construction of a wind farm off the state’s southeastern coast. In recent months, BOEM has signaled interest in leasing one of two previously identified wind energy areas off of the Brunswick County coast.

In addition to setting offshore wind goals, the executive order establishes the NC Task Force for Offshore Wind Economic Resource Strategies, or NC TOWERS, an effort led by the state Department of Commerce to boost offshore wind economic development efforts. Cooper is also directing several state agencies to identify point people for offshore wind and calling for quarterly meetings of the NC Offshore Wind Interagency Task Group.

“This coordinated approach to developing our offshore wind supply chain will bring new jobs to North Carolina for generations to come. From building out the supply chain, to installing equipment, to operating the wind facilities, North Carolina’s manufacturers and workforce are well positioned to play an integral role in the entire East Coast market, not just for projects directly off the state’s coast,” Machelle Baker Sanders, the state’s commerce secretary, said in a prepared statement.

Katharine Kollins, the president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for wind energy, told The News & Observer that the new targets are “extremely important.”

“It starts the conversation. It gives us something concrete to talk about, it gives us something concrete to work toward,” Kollins said.

Lucas Stavole, Wood Mackenzie’s senior analyst for offshore wind, said North Carolina is the eighth state with an offshore target. By comparison, Virginia has a goal of 5.2 gigawatts by 2034, New Jersey a goal of 7.5 gigawatts by 2035 and Maryland a target of 1.2 gigawatts by 2030.

In an interview with The News & Observer, Stavole said actions like Wednesday’s executive order signal to industry officials and federal agencies that the state is committed to wind energy.

“All of this matters in terms of the industry getting to a point where there they’re comfortable investing in North Carolina and investing in North Carolina wind,” Stavole said.

Stavole also said that it might be “a stretch” for North Carolina to meet the 2030 target, especially if the Kitty Hawk project takes longer than expect. The 2040 goal is much more attainable, Stavole said.

The NC Clean Energy Plan, published in October 2019, set a target of a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050 while ensuring that energy is affordable and creating economic opportunities. Offshore wind was one of the energy sources featured in that report.

Among the efforts to come out of the clean energy plan was a partnership with Maryland and Virginia announced last October that is meant to promote the states as a “hub” for the offshore industry and help develop supply chains.

A supply chain study conducted for the state Department of Commence earlier this year found that wind companies could invest $140 billion along the Atlantic Coast by 2035. The study also found that North Carolina companies could fulfill $99 billion of that investment.

Congressional action

Earlier this year, North Carolina leaders including Cooper and Reps. Deborah Ross and David Rouzer called on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to explore leasing the two areas off of the Brunswick County coast that were identified for wind energy development in 2014.

In a May 18 letter to Ross and other members of the North Carolina congressional delegation, Amanda Lefton, the agency’s director, wrote that the agency is working toward another lease sale off the state’s coast.

A BOEM spokesman told The News & Observer that the agency “anticipates” having a wind energy auction for an area off of the North Carolina coast in 2022. Both the Wilmington East and Wilmington West areas are under consideration for leases.

“The final decision on which areas will be included in a potential lease sale will be based on feedback received from the Carolina Long Bay Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force, ocean users and stakeholder input,” the spokesman wrote in an email.

The task force is expected to meet this summer, with a focus on the leasing process’ next steps.

Of Cooper’s executive order, Ross told The News & Observer, “The most important thing is showing that state support,” Ross said. “If BOEM is going to do this, they want to be successful because success breeds success. So when we show that kind of local support, that gives them confidence in us.”

Ross has also cosponsored legislation that would lift a Trump-era moratorium preventing further wind energy leases for 10 years beginning on July 1, 2022. In her letter, Lefton wrote that BOEM is working to address the moratorium.

“I feel very good about it for two reasons,” Ross said. “Reason number one: It’s clear that the Biden administration is in favor. And reason number two is that it has bipartisan support.”

Wind leases

Kollins said BOEM should be able to lease one or both North Carolina sites before the moratorium falls into place.

Of the sites off of the Brunswick coast, Kollins said, “We’re fairly certain that visual impact is almost always the primary concern and the closest area is 13 miles offshore which is pretty far when it comes to visual impact. You can see it, but it’s on clear days, primarily.”

Rouzer, who represents much of Southeastern North Carolina, said he believes wind energy could be an economic boon to his district and to the state.

“I have always been in favor of an all-of-the-above approach to energy development, and i think this is a really great opportunity for manufacturing and economic growth particularly in areas that have struggled with economic growth opportunities,” Rouzer told The News & Observer.

Ross and Rouzer are set to discuss offshore wind during an upcoming meeting with BOEM officials . As part of that meeting, Rouzer plans to raise the Village of Bald Head Island’s long-standing concerns about turbines possibly being visible from the coast.

“I definitely don’t believe in ramming anything through that doesn’t have support of local communities,” Rouzer said.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has already leased a 122,405-acre tract about 24 nautical miles off of Kitty Hawk. According to Avangrid, which leased the Kitty Hawk area, it has the potential to generate about 2.5 gigawatts once completed, or enough to power about 700,000 homes. There are 1,000 megawatts in a gigawatt.

Avangrid Renewables, which is based in Portland, Oregon, owns and operates more than 7.3 gigawatts of wind and solar facilities. The company’s holdings include a 104-turbine wind farm in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties that provides power for Amazon Web Services data centers.

A construction plan Avangrid submitted in December shows that the first phase of the Kitty Hawk project would have the capacity to produce 800 megawatts and that construction could start as soon as 2024.

This story was produced with financial support from 1Earth Fund, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.