‘Hang onto your hat,” a friend advised when I told her about the wind at Kure Beach.
The imperative was so true. Since moving to the beach town, I have bought several hats, all with the hope that one would fit tighter on my head and wouldn’t blow off.
The wind takes some getting used to when one lives near the ocean. It blows and gusts.
The wind sometimes commands the seagulls to take an alternative route. The birds often seem to fly at the mercy of the wind – their flight is sometimes sideways.
The constant and forceful wind has permanently shaped the live oaks trees across from Fort Fisher. They are crooked and look a little eerie.
The wind and the ocean are inseparable. Our abundant wind can be harnessed as an energy source. Ocean winds are North Carolina’s greatest natural resource and can help fulfill the quest for clean energy.
Over 2,300 wind turbines spin off the coasts of 11 countries in Europe, particularly off the Irish and North seas, but not one offshore turbine operates in the U.S. today.
North Carolina is just beginning to explore offshore wind development. The federal government has identified possible sites off Kitty Hawk, Wilmington and Bald Head Island, but North Carolina’s offshore wind farms are years away.
Still, ocean winds are stronger and more uniform. Offshore wind energy will be “the game changer” when it comes to transitioning from our use of dirty fuels.
North Carolina will soon have a glimpse of wind energy with the $400 million onshore Amazon Wind Farm near Elizabeth City. The project will erect 102 turbines and generate 208 megawatts or enough electricity to power 60,000 homes.
The online retailer contracted with Iberdola Renewables, a Spanish developer, to make it happen. The success of the project could open the door to offshore wind farms along our coast.
Zachary Keith, lead organizer at the N.C. Sierra Club, said he believes Iberdola’s new onshore wind development will lead to even more wind projects. “The utilities, state officials, legislators and the public will all become comfortable with wind energy.”
Paul Copleman, spokesman for Iberdola, shares a similar sentiment, believing that the onshore project will lead to more renewable projects and to possibly offshore wind farms.
The Amazon Wind Farm came to fruition after five years of acquiring permits, engineering tests and studies. The regulatory process is arduous.
Wind and other renewable energy sources could be a large part of North Carolina’s future energy supply, but that will take changes in the law and adjustments in state policy that are not happening because of resistance from utilities and the fossil fuel industry.
The N.C. House, for instance, passed a bill that would cap the share of utility-generated electricity that must come from renewable sources. The cap would set the “renewable portfolio standard” at 6 percent and prevent it from steadily rising to 12 percent by 2021 as current law calls for.
If passed, the legislation would slow the state’s robust growth in solar energy and dim prospects for more energy from wind and bio-gas.
The sponsor of House Bill 332 is Mike Hager, a Republican from Rutherford and a former Duke Energy employee. The bill, currently in the N.C. Senate Finance Committee, is supported by Americans for Prosperity, a PAC supported by the Koch brothers. Proponents say that the bill is necessary to keep energy prices down. Coal is so cheap.
Keith and Copleman both praised Gov. Pat McCrory for his seeming excitement at the Amazon Wind Farm’s groundbreaking. And the governor has said he supports wind energy. Still, the McCrory administration sent mixed messages on the issue with a letter to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The governor requested that offshore wind projects not be allowed within 24 nautical miles of the coast. The distance would effectively kill most offshore wind development in N.C.
I understand the fossil fuel industries’ opposition to renewable energy. They are in business, and they hesitate to make the transition to what clearly is the future. They might fight it, but they cannot halt the winds of change. Hold on to your hat.
Kristine Kaiser, who writes about issues in Eastern North Carolina, lives in Kure Beach