Onslow Bay looked at for first North Carolina wind farm

The federal government has received the first formal application for a potential wind power project off the North Carolina coast, and it’s not too far from some New Hanover and Pender county beaches.

Apex Wind Energy is requesting to lease 213 square miles of ocean, all more than 20 miles off the coast, to explore the area’s feasibility for a wind farm.

The Onslow Bay area was selected because of its lack of environmental and other conflicts and its strong, sustained winds, states the July application to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, which is the successor to the Mineral Management Service.

But the possible installation of massive wind turbines generating hundreds of megawatts and reaching several hundred feet into the air is still years off.

“We’re still at the baby-step stage here,” said John Bane, a professor of marine sciences with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and an advisor to Apex.

If Washington approves the request, a five-year site assessment study will take place to assess the area’s compatibility for a wind farm. The company would then have to go back to the federal regulators to win approval to actually start construction.

Still, Apex’s application is a milestone of sorts as North Carolina strives to diversify its energy production away from dirty fuels like coal toward cleaner and renewable – albeit often more expensive – sources like natural gas, wind energy and solar power.