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NC Senate explores the possibility of wind farms off the coast

With the largest offshore wind energy potential on the East Coast, North Carolina could make wind farming its first successful renewable energy industry.

An N.C. Senate bill, titled Offshore Wind Jobs and Economic Development, would require the construction of wind farms off the coast. The first farm would be required to begin producing energy by 2017.

The bill also states that N.C. has the fastest growing population on the East Coast but is not currently equipped with the power generation required to meet its energy demands. Wind energy has the potential to produce 130 percent of the state’s current energy needs, according to the bill.

Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, one of the primary sponsors of the bill, said wind energy resources will be vital in meeting the state’s future energy needs.

“It’s only a matter of time before we harness them, and we need to get ahead of the curve,” he said.

Though offshore wind farms are more costly per unit than fossil fuels, wind farms and other forms of renewable energy could be a long-term economic boon, he said.

“We have the chance to be where turbine manufacturers locate,” he said.

The bill outlines a long-term vision for wind companies interested in building farms off the coast. Companies would need to produce 2,500 megawatts of wind energy in about 10 years and 5,000 by 2030.

Apex Wind Energy, a national developer of wind energy facilities based in Charlottesville, Va., is one of the companies interested in constructing the wind farms.

Rob Propes, a development manager at Apex Wind Energy, said wind energy provides a stable economic alternative to the price fluctuations of fossil fuels.

“Wind energy development off the coast has the potential to be an enormous economic opportunity and job creator for the state,” he said.

But there are also several environmental and logistical issues associated with the construction of wind turbines. Joseph Kalo, a UNC law professor who researches coastal development, said turbine placement has the potential to adversely affect the fishing industry and migratory bird populations.

Kalo added that the wind farm industry faces an uncertain future since federal leases for coastal waters only last for 20 to 30 years.

“Probably 20 years from now there’s going to be a lot better stuff out there,” he said.

The bill is currently being reviewed in the Senate Committee on Commerce. But before wind farm construction could begin off the state’s coast, companies must also comply with federal regulations governing U.S. coastal waters.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement developed a task force in 2010 to coordinate intergovernmental relations and evaluate the potential for wind farms off the state’s coast.

The task force met in Raleigh last week to review concerns about wind farm construction. The group is still in the process of identifying regions off the coast that would be feasible for wind energy development.

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