Plan for first N.C. offshore wind farm goes to Interior

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Avangrid Inc. has submitted plans to the Interior Department for the first offshore wind project off the coast of North Carolina, pushing the industry south into hurricane-prone waters.

The first phase of the Kitty Hawk offshore wind project would produce 800 megawatts of power from turbines sited 27 miles off of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a tourist hub. Avangrid, an energy holding company based in Connecticut, is aiming to build as much as 2,500 MW in the lease area between 2021 and 2030. That would be enough electricity to light up 700,000 homes.

A construction and operations plan (COP) was handed to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Dec. 11, the company said in a release.

The Kitty Hawk project faces several unusual challenges. For one, Atlantic hurricanes pose a greater threat to wind turbines off the coasts of southern states than off of New England. In 2017, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded that turbines were unlikely to survive a Category 5 hurricane and noted that in North Carolina, major hurricanes were expected to return every decade and a half.

Rural areas along coastal North Carolina also lack the grid capacity to handle large infusions of power. Analysts say that means expensive and time-consuming transmission upgrades would be necessary.

Kitty Hawk would also be the first offshore wind project associated with a state that has no mandate for buying offshore wind power, a policy tool that has driven development along the East Coast. That means the power might be more likely to find buyers in Virginia than in North Carolina.

Last spring, Virginia approved a law requiring 100% of the state’s power to come from carbon-free sources by 2045. It called on utilities serving the state to supply at least 5,200 MW of offshore wind in the coming years.

In September, Avangrid opened an office in Virginia Beach, Va., about 41 miles from the Kitty Hawk lease area.

A summary of the construction and operations plan submitted to the Interior Department emphasizes the economic advantages for Virginia Beach and other coastal municipalities. And Avangrid spokespeople said it was “possible” that Kitty Hawk could supply power “to a Virginia-based customer.”

“We are evaluating multiple options for bringing ashore the clean electricity generated by Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind in either Virginia or North Carolina,” wrote Avangrid spokesperson Morgan Pitts in an email to E&E News.

Asked about how power would come ashore in North Carolina, Pitts responded, “If our customer is in Virginia, the power will likely come ashore in Virginia.”

“We are in the early stages of evaluating North Carolina’s electricity system, but we do believe that advances in transmission technology can enable direct delivery to North Carolina if we have a customer there,” he added.

Avangrid’s announcement on Kitty Hawk came the same day that the Trump administration decided to terminate the application of what would be the country’s first utility-scale offshore wind project, Vineyard Wind. Avangrid is part of a joint venture pursuing that project off of Massachusetts. The termination follows repeated delays. Its developers will need to start from scratch with a new application for a federal permit (Greenwire, Dec. 15).