On Monday, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (“BOEM”) has defined three Wind Energy Areas off the North Carolina coast for potential commercial wind energy development.
The three Wind Energy Areas cover approximately 307,590 acres, which is a reduction in the area initially considered by BOEM for commercial scale wind power development. The Wind Energy Areas announced Monday include about 122,405 acres off the coast of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and two areas of 51,595 acres and 133,590 acres off the coast of Wilmington, North Carolina. A map of the Wind Energy Areas can be found here.
BOEM cited several reasons for its reduction in the size of the Wind Energy Areas, including concerns voiced by the United States Coast Guard and the shipping industry that large pylons would create navigational safety issues for tugs, barges and container ships and concerns from marine ecologists that wind farms could affect migration routes for North Atlantic right whales and other marine mammals.
North Carolina is considered to have some of the best wind resources along the East Coast of the U.S. Offshore wind energy has been encouraged by North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory and was also embraced by his predecessor, Democratic Governor Bev Perdue. In a letter to BOEM, Governor McCrory noted the beneficial economic impact of the industry on the state, citing power transmission cable manufacturer ABB, steel plate producer Nucor, and fiberglass maker PPG.
BOEM has not decided whether it will offer leases for the Wind Energy Areas. Before doing so, BOEM will complete an Environmental Assessment to determine potential impacts associated with issuing leases and approving site assessment activities in the identified areas. If leases are issued, any proposal for a commercial wind energy facility would also require a construction and operations plan and a site-specific environmental analysis.