The first-ever lease sale for offshore wind off the Carolinas’ coast has been scheduled for March 16, 2017. The lease sale will allow interested development companies to bid on the rights to site assessment activities to gauge the suitability of the area for offshore wind development. The area to be leased is known as the Kitty Hawk leasing area, and lies approximately 24 nautical miles off of North Carolina’s coast (depicted in orange in the map to the right). This announcement follows the identification of the area in August 2014 and the proposal of the sale last August.
North Carolina has the largest offshore wind resource in the nation (that can be harnessed economically with current technology) and this lease sale is a concrete step to begin harnessing that massive energy potential. Others see the great potential, too, as nine separate development companies have expressed interest in bidding on the lease. This heightened interest in development comes at an interesting time for the wind industry, as very promising advances and discouraging setbacks take place nationally and in North Carolina. The first offshore wind farm in the U.S. powered up just last month in Rhode Island, the first onshore wind farm in North Carolina is in the final stages of construction now, and the states of New York and Massachusetts have committed to developing thousands of megawatts of offshore wind. Meanwhile, some of the country’s most promising offshore wind farm projects have stalled in pre-construction phases for years. With this mixed assessment of what the implications would be for North Carolina, the interest of so many development companies shows strong private sector confidence in the success of the Kitty Hawk wind development.
Offshore wind could bring substantial benefits to North Carolina through economic development and environmental protection. The construction of North Carolina’s first wind farm–the Amazon Wind Farm Southeast–this past year supported work for more than 30 local companies and 500 employees in Northeastern NC. Furthermore, dozens of companies who manufacture materials or components for the wind industry are located in North Carolina and could be supported by additional wind development. Furthermore, unlike conventional power plants, wind energy produces no pollution nor does it consume any water in the process of generating electricity.
Whichever company wins the lease sale on March 16 will then create a Site Assessment Plan (SAP), detailing how it will collect meteorological data (i.e. from a buoy or tower) to submit to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for environmental review. If the SAP is approved, then the lessee will conduct site assessments such as collecting wind data and information on wildlife to help guide the company in crafting Construction & Operations Plans (COP). Upon submission, the COP is then subject to review, environmental approval, and public comment before the final construction permit is approved. You can learn more about the offshore wind leasing process here.
You can learn more about offshore and onshore wind in North Carolina here.