The federal agency tasked with developing offshore wind energy wants feedback on two newly proposed lease areas off North Carolina, including one that would require floating turbines.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management proposed eight sections of the Atlantic Ocean for development between Delaware and North Carolina. Off North Carolina, that includes 327.74 square miles northeast of the existing Kitty Hawk lease, an area that straddles the state line with Virginia.
And then there’s a 65.7-square-mile area that sits 76.5 miles off the Outer Banks in water with depths of about 1.5 miles. Along with a draft area off Maryland, that represents the first wind energy area on the East Coast that would need floating wind turbines instead of turbines anchored to the ocean floor.
Considering the increased cost and difficulty of developing the floating sites, it’s important to focus attention on the sites that are closer to shore, said Katharine Kollins, president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition. Places like California and Hawaii that have higher electricity costs are likely to see floating wind farms before the East Coast, Kollins added.
“There may be a world where that floating technology is less costly, but I haven’t seen any reports where that happens in the next 10 to 20 years,” Kollins said. “I think for now we focus on the shallow water development.”
Floating wind turbines cost $160 per megawatt hour to develop, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, with prices expected to drop by 2030 to somewhere between $60 and $105 per megawatt hour.
By comparison, turbines that are fixed to the ocean floor cost $96 per megawatt hour, with prices expected to reach $56 per megawatt hour by 2030.
“Even in the best case scenarios, fixed bottom is expected to be cheaper. And on the East Coast, because we have access to fixed bottom, it makes sense to look there first,” Kollins said.
BOEM has already issued three leases for offshore wind off North Carolina’s coast. In 2017, Avangrid won the rights to develop a 191-square-mile area about 27 miles off the Outer Banks. Earlier this year, Duke Energy Renewables Wind and TotalEnergies Renewables USA won the rights to a pair of areas about 20 miles off the Brunswick County coast.
The depths and distance from shore will likely mean the areas identified for floating turbines can’t be developed by 2035, BOEM said in a notice requesting comment. But the agency wants feedback from the industry about whether the areas are viable from an economic or a technological standpoint.
Even if development is far off, it’s important that BOEM is identifying areas for floating turbines on the East Coast, said John Begala, the Business Network for Offshore Wind’s vice president for state and federal policy.
“Floating wind represents a national opportunity here. It’s still a relatively nascent technology around the world, meaning it’s an opportunity for the U.S. to catch up to or perhaps surpass our global competitors,” Begala said.
Federal and state leaders have pushed for offshore wind, with the Biden administration setting a goal of 30 gigawatts of energy generated nationally by 2030 and N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper setting state targets of 2.8 gigawatts by 2030 and 8 gigawatts by 2040.
Based on the feedback it receives, BOEM could still remove parts of the proposed lease areas.
BOEM Director Amanda Lefton wrote, “We want to gather as much information and traditional knowledge as possible to help us identify Wind Energy Areas — the offshore areas that are most suitable for commercial wind energy activities while having the fewest apparent environmental and user conflicts.”
BOEM is accepting public comment on the proposed wind energy areas until Dec. 16. The agency will hold virtual meetings with fishermen and environmental groups next week.
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.
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