Offshore wind energy in North Carolina

A new energy source could literally be blowing in the wind later this decade off the North Carolina coast. Wind turbines — on land and offshore — were one of the topics of the daylong Coastal Power: Riding the Wave of Green Energy summit Friday at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center.

Brian O’Hara, president of the Raleigh-based North Carolina Offshore Wind Coalition, was part of a panel discussion on the pros, cons and possibiles of wind power. Afterward, he said coastal wind farm would be developed first off the northeastern coast, which is further along in its efforts.

"I think for the first projects, we are looking at a couple of years away — probably Massachusetts, maybe Delaware," he said. "The Cape Wind Farm Project (Massachusetts) is in a really good technical location and a very challenging political location."

He foresees wind farms off the N.C. coast before the end of the decade. "For North Carolina, if things go well, we can see the first wind turbines in the water by 2017," he said. O’Hara doesn’t foresee wind turbines in the Pamlico Sound.

"I think where you are going to see proposals are definitely offshore, in federal waters," he said. "Most developers are proposing wind farm projects in the range of 10 miles or more offshore. In a state like North Carolina where tourism is such an important part of our economy, it’s important that we avoid any visual impacts."

He said a number processes need to take place before any wind turbines are placed in the Atlantic Ocean off North Carolina. There is an ongoing federal leasing for waters three miles off shore.

A state task force is working with government regulators, environmental and marine stakeholders, identifying potential sites offshore wind farm and the constraints.

O’Hara said the next task force step would be to issue a call for interest through Department of Interior seeking developers. It would not be a government project.

He said responders in other states had mostly been U.S.-based offshore wind farm developers, with some interest from European companies.

The first commercial offshore wind farm was off the coast of Denmark in 1991, and Europeans have continued building offshore turbines. O’Hara said those two decades of work gives U.S. efforts a wealth of background experience to draw from.

There are currently no U.S. offshore wind farms.

Charlie Hall,