Developer for wind farm off Kitty Hawk to be picked in early 2017

Federal officials expect to select a developer in the first half of next year to build an offshore wind farm off Kitty Hawk, a major step in the long process of vetting and erecting giant spinning turbines in the Atlantic Ocean.

Officials from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, who oversee the leasing of federal waters, presented an update of the selection process Tuesday in Raleigh. They plan to hold a public information session at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head on Wednesday.

The sessions are part of a preliminary review of a triangular area off the Outer Banks measuring 191 square miles and identified last year by BOEM as suitable for offshore wind farm development. As the Oct. 17 deadline to submit public comments approaches, BOEM officials say that only three public comments had been submitted as of last week, but many more are expected to arrive in the coming three weeks.

“We’re on the cusp of something new here,” said Jim Bennett, BOEM’s program manager in the Office of Renewable Energy Programs.

“We have steel in the ground,” Bennett said, referring to the Atlantic Ocean’s first offshore wind farm, the Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island, which is now in final testing. Its five turbines are expected to start generating power soon.

The wind energy project off North Carolina could have several hundred turbines. The proposed area is 24 nautical miles, or 27.6 statute miles, from shore at its nearest point.

BOEM officials said the bidding to lease the federal parcel will start at $244,800. Bidding to secure other federal leases in the Atlantic Ocean has reached several million dollars. So far, only the Block Island project has been completed.

A developer building off Kitty Hawk also would have to pay $367,215 a year in rent until the project is built, at which point the wind farm would switch to paying the federal government an annual operating fee based on its power output and on wholesale electricity costs. BOEM officials said the operating fee could be $1.4 million for a 500 megawatt project.

BOEM has awarded 13 commercial leases along the East Coast between Virginia and New England. One of those, the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod, has been mired in lawsuits and is not expected to go forward.

The parcel selection process off North Carolina started about six years ago. From the time the lease is awarded next year, it could take the developer anywhere from five to 10 years to build the wind farm as the project goes through various stages of review.

NC ranks 2nd in solar

North Carolina ranks second in the U.S. for solar energy capacity after a huge number of installations last year, an industry report says.

The Solar Energy Industries Association says the state had 2,295 megawatts of solar capacity at mid-year. Half that was installed in 2015, when solar developers raced to build projects before state tax credits for 35 percent of their cost expired.

North Carolina passed Arizona for second place. Both trail far behind California, which has nearly 14,000 megawatts of solar capacity and installed 3,200 megawatts last year.

The federal government projects that renewable energy, which includes solar, wind and hydroelectric plants, will generate 23 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2025 compared to 13 percent in 2015.

Bruce Henderson, Charlotte Observer