Offshore wind could be a big-dollar boon for N.C. — report

Source: By Heather Richards, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, March 4, 2021

The state’s Commerce Department released a report yesterday arguing that North Carolina’s existing manufacturing footprint could be leveraged to secure more of the offshore wind market.

There are just seven offshore wind turbines active in U.S. waters today, off Rhode Island and Virginia. But climate and clean energy commitment from states like New York and Massachusetts are expected to soon drive a boom in projects in the Northeast.

The Biden administration has promised robust support for offshore wind power and is expected to soon release a long-awaited final environmental review for the first offshore wind farm of scale in the U.S., Vineyard Wind.

According to the North Carolina report, by consulting firm BVG Associates, roughly 40 gigawatts of offshore wind power capacity could be installed off the east coast by 2035, representing $140 billion in investments.

The state’s manufacturing industry already employs nearly a half-million workers and represents roughly 17% of the state’s GDP, leading East Coast states and ranking fifth nationally, the report notes.

That could allow North Carolina companies to supply major components and aid in construction and mobilization of a fleet of turbines, utilizing its existing network of rail, highways and ports to move products, according to the report.

“Just like biotechnology was for us many years ago, today clean energy represents an industry of the future,” Machelle Sanders, North Carolina’s Commerce secretary, said in a statement.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) is pursuing a 2050 target for carbon neutrality for the state’s power sector. His plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% compared to 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The governor has proposed accelerating the close of coal-fired plants in the state, boosting renewables and supporting the growth of electric vehicle ownership as part of its clean energy planning.

The state lags behind its Northeastern counterparts in pursuing offshore wind. North Carolina has just one wind energy area in federal waters, currently leased to Avangrid Renewables LLC.

The offshore lease area could support enough offshore wind electricity to power some 700,000 homes. To capitalize on the offshore wind boom to come, North Carolina would need greater wind leasing capability — something only the federal government can offer.

The Trump administration signed a 10-year moratorium on new energy leasing off the coast of North Carolina shortly before leaving office, part of a suite of such bans on new offshore energy development that started with an election year bid to extend the congressional block on offshore oil leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The North Carolina study has found support from pro-wind business groups. “North Carolina will be a Southern trailblazer if it embraces this next great American industry,” said Sam Salustro, director of coalitions and strategic partnerships at the Business Network for Offshore Wind.