A recommendation from Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration to keep offshore wind farms at least 24 nautical miles away from the coast would strike a death knell for wind energy here, wind advocates say.
The buffer requested by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is among 195 public comments released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Interior. The federal agency solicited the comments as it reviews which sections of the Atlantic Ocean are suitable for offshore wind development.
If DENR’s proposal were adopted, the wind farm development area would shrink by about half from the currently proposed 480 square miles. The oceanic area has been steadily shrinking with each stage of the review process as the military, shipping industry, fishing interests and tourism concerns chip away at the proposed zone.
“The bottom line is the practical effect of a 24 nautical mile exclusion zone is that North Carolina won’t be developing offshore wind for some time,” said Brian O’Hara, president of the Southeastern Coastal Wind Coalition. “You’re basically pushing everything out to distances and depths that unnecessarily raise cost burdens for the first project.”
In August, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved just a quarter of the 1,900 square miles under consideration last summer.
Most of the public comments released Thursday are from local residents, but some are from local governments, advocacy groups and other organizations. Audubon North Carolina requested avian surveys to better understand migrating and nesting birds. The governments of Brunswick and Oak Island expressed concerns about unknown potential consequences.
The Marine Mammal Commission warned of “significant cumulative impacts on the marine environment” from driving pylons on the ocean floor and erecting 460-foot tall spires with rotating turbines.
The DENR letter surprised wind advocates because Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has long supported offshore wind farms along side of offshore drilling. In January 2013, McCrory wrote to BOEM touting North Carolina’s “world-class wind energy resources” and said offshore wind farms could add as many as 10,000 permanent jobs.
DENR still “fully supports offshore energy development,” according to the agency’s emailed written response to follow-up questions Friday. But any development will have to protect coast and ocean, and address military and navigational concerns, the agency said.
“We have voiced consistent concerns and sought similar protections for both offshore wind and offshore oil and gas development,” DENR said.
The agency also noted that Kitty Hawk officials asked for a 20 nautical mile buffer from their town, and the National Park Service asked for a 33.7 nautical mile buffer from the Bodie Island Lighthouse.
The Feb. 23 letter to BOEM, written by DENR Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart, emphasized environmental concerns and other potential conflicts, and encouraged further studies.
“North Carolina’s coastline is unique compared to other east coast states,” his letter stated.