The Ørsted Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island, the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., pictured in 2016.

The Ørsted Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island, the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., pictured in 2016. (Eric Thayer/Bloomberg)

(Tribune News Service) — Objections from the Department of Defense may have resulted in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management deciding not to move forward with a new wind leasing area off of the North Carolina coast.

BOEM recently announced that it has removed a pair of North Carolina sites from consideration for new offshore wind leases, instead moving ahead with environmental assessments for sites off Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

An area BOEM calls Area D, which starts about 27 miles off of North Carolina’s coast and is adjacent to the existing Kitty Hawk wind lease, drew particular concern. The U.S. Navy said the entire 690-square mile lease area was high priority for its operations and unsuitable for development, resulting in BOEM removing it from consideration.

Dave Belote, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who also served as executive director of the Department of Defense’s energy siting clearinghouse, told The News & Observer that Area D includes places that are vital to military operations and is representative of a problem other proposed leases off North Carolina will face.

The eastern half of the area, Belote said, is frequently used for fighter pilots to practice landing and taking off from aircraft carriers based at Naval Station Norfolk. The area is close enough to shore that if something goes wrong, a pilot in training can land on a runway at Navy facilities in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake or even the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Elizabeth City.

Belote, who now runs a company called DARE Strategies that helps renewable energy projects navigate Department of Defense hurdles, said at least some of the area could have been available to wind development.

“I suspect to have cut it with a scalpel rather than an ax, we might have been able to get the western third to half of Area D and still had adequate effective and safe training for those pilots who need that area,” Belote said.

Security concerns also resulted in much of an area off the Maryland and Virginia coasts being removed from consideration, with NASA saying wind turbines there would be at extreme risk from operations at its Wallops Flight Facility and the U.S. Air Force saying the southern part of the area is a high priority for its own operations. BOEM managed, however, to maintain 122 square miles off Assateague Island for consideration.

Another area BOEM chose to remove from consideration started about 50 miles off of the North Carolina and Virginia coast. It would require any developer to use floating wind turbines. Katharine Kollins, president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition, told The N&O building floating turbines is unnecessary when there are large swaths available for development in shallower areas.

“We want the highest chance of development and that means fixed bottom turbines right now because that is the most cost effective and available technology,” Kollins said.

BOEM did decide to move forward with three leases, one each off the coasts of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. The next step will be an environmental assessment, followed by identification of the proposed lease areas that will then lead to a finalized lease area put up for auction.

Kollins said legislative mandates in Maryland and Virginia that require utilities purchase offshore wind energy could have played a role in BOEM’s decision. Those mandates push up demand for offshore wind projects, Kollins said, more than the resource-agnostic approach North Carolina took in its carbon reduction laws.

“It’s all about priorities for BOEM. They’ve got to decide which areas have the most demand and the least conflict. That’s how they get the most money for their leases,” Kollins said.

Offshore wind in North Carolina

Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 218, issued in 2021, set goals of 2.8 gigawatts of energy generated off of North Carolina’s coast by 2030 and 8 gigawatts by 2040, while the federal targets are 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 and 110 by 2050.

“While this decision is extremely disappointing, it will not slow North Carolina’s momentum in reaching our offshore wind energy goals as we transition to a clean energy economy. The Biden-Harris administration and North Carolina have outlined strong goals to increase offshore wind energy generation and this decision jeopardizes both plans,” Cooper, a Democrat, wrote in a statement.

BOEM has leased three wind energy areas off North Carolina.

In 2017, Avangrid paid $9 million to lease an area off of Kitty Hawk. Last year, TotalEnergies Renewables USA paid $160 million to lease an area off of the Brunswick County coast, while Duke Energy Renewables Wind paid $155 million for a neighboring area.

BOEM has estimated that if fully developed, the Brunswick County areas could generate 1.3 gigawatts of power, or enough for 500,000 homes. Avangrid believes that if fully developed, the Kitty Hawk wind area would be able to generate 3.5 gigawatts, or enough for a million homes.

It is likely, Belote said, that any future wind lease off North Carolina would run into conflict with some branch of the military. Between operations at the Marines’ Camp Lejeune, the Air Force’s Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and the Dare County Bombing Range, large swaths of North Carolina’s coastline have restricted use.

“These areas are heavily used and any time you would site turbines anywhere off the coast of either Carolina, you’re going to have to cut it with a scalpel rather than do it with an ax to find places that turbine can co-exist with the military training that’s very important out there,” Belote said.

The projects off of Brunswick County, Belote added, “fit perfectly” between air space and parts of the ocean that have long been claimed by the armed forces. There could, therefore, be no Department of Defense objections to that particular project.

The conflict between the military and offshore wind projects will be a topic at Thursday’s meeting of the NC Taskforce for Offshore Wind, where Belote will talk with Steve Sample, the current executive director of the military’s siting clearinghouse.

This story was produced with financial support from 1Earth Fund, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.

©2023 The Charlotte Observer.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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