ENC Regional News
1:02 pm
Thu December 23, 2010

National Wildlife Federation report shows great potential for offshore wind energy in N-C

National Wildlife Federation report shows great potential for offshore wind energy in N-C

New Bern, NC – INTRO -- A new report has high hopes for North Carolina's potential to create offshore wind energy. George Olsen has more.

The report produced by the National Wildlife Federation looks at potential offshore wind energy production from Maine to Florida. Of that potential, about 20% of it can be found off the North Carolina coast.

"North Carolina specifically has 55 gigawatts of wind potential offshore. That's a significant amount of wind."

Curtis Fisher, the offshore wind initiative leader for the National Wildlife Federation and lead author of the report "Offshore Wind in the Atlantic." Of course, that's "potential," not "actual." A lot of that wind is more than 12 nautical miles offshore and in deep water, making access tricky. But there's still a significant amount of wind potential in areas where proven technology exists to turn that "potential" into usable energy.

"North Carolina has some significant offshore wind resources that are in that shallow water, more than 40gws, but then you have to look at environmental and other constraints. The federal government factors about 60% would be subtracted just as a general number for a whole variety of those environmental constraints so you're talking about in the neighborhood of about 15gws of offshore wind in shallow water, prime off-shore wind as I would describe it, that the commercial technology today is ready to be utilized."

The 15 gigawatts of offshore wind energy is in waters of no more than 30 meters depth, crucial because the technology to get that energy onshore is well proven

"These are directly connected to the surface floor and you're talking about wanting when you're making this investment we're obviously trying to ensure the technology is proven. Europe has been utilizing offshore wind turbines since the early 1990s. There are over 900 offshore wind turbines spinning now. They're just not spinning off the U-S Coast. This is proven technology."

Fisher says the technology for deepwater wind involves technology that isn't as tested though it is being significantly invested in good for the future of North Carolina wind energy as there's a great amount of wind in deepwater locations off our coast. That potential is also good for a future energy industry in North Carolina one Fisher says could bring 10,000-to-20,000 jobs to the state and reverse the trend of being dependent on energy imports.

"There's a lot of import of coal into North Carolina. The great thing about offshore wind is if done right, N-C can bring the manufacture jobs into the state and then producing the energy so that those dollars that are currently going to other states that are coal producing states, the fact of the matter is those jobs will be staying and creating economic activity for North Carolina."

Offshore wind energy might not be too far off in the state's future though far from immediate.

"The Outer Banks Ocean Energy Project is a specific company. Apex Wind Energy Co. has applied for a federal exploratory lease for 216 square miles of ocean, that's 20 miles off the coast. Their application noted the project could involve up to 1900 mw and just to give a sense of size that's approximately 3 average sized fossil fuel plants."

The exploratory lease is the first step in the process. Fisher thinks in the next 3-to-5 years real progress will be made, but whether that means construction of turbines will begin isn't clear. That's one of the hang-ups with offshore wind the permitting process. Fisher notes the Cape Wind project off the Massachusetts coast was in the permitting process for over nine years too long, according to Fisher for an energy source he says could go against the pricing norm of today's energy sources.

" I think what is one of the key documents is a draft strategic plan from the U-S Department of Energy that lays out that this is technology that could be delivering in 2030 electricity at around 7 cents a kw. That's a significant price. When you look at fossil fuels and other sources of energy there's very few that can be built to the scale we're talking about out into 2020 and 2030 that are actually going to be prices going down rather than going up."

Curtis Fisher is the offshore wind initiative leader for the National Wildlife Federation and lead author of the report "Offshore Wind in the Atlantic." I'm George Olsen.