Environment, Legislature

Bidding reaches $7.5 million for state’s first offshore wind farm — and it could go higher

The federal government is leasing these 122,405 acres for the state’s first off-shore wind farm. North Carolina has the most wind energy potential of any Atlantic state. (Map: Bureau of Ocean Management)

[Update 2: In Round 17, one company bid $9 million. No other company has matched or exceeded it. Stay tuned for the BOEM’s announcement of the winning bid.]

 

[Update 1: There have now been 15 bidding rounds, for $7.5 million. The number of companies bidding just dropped to two.]

Twelve rounds of bidding, four companies and $5.3 million on the table — and so far, no one’s flinching. Since 9:30 this morning, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has been auctioning 122,405 acres of ocean for an off-shore wind farm 27.5 miles from Kitty Hawk.

The winning bidder would not own the acreage, but lease it from the BOEM, a division of the U.S. Department of Interior. This is an online lease sale, so there’s no wonderful soundtrack of an auctioneer (five-five-five— do-I-hear-five-point-three-million?!) Nonetheless, the bidding updates, which started at $244,000, have been interesting.

North Carolina has more offshore wind energy potential than any Atlantic state. This would the state’s first off-shore wind farm.

More than 35 people or groups commented on the proposed lease, indicating the many potential conflicts even clean energy can encounter. The World Shipping Council was concerned about the turbines’ interference of ocean traffic. The Town of Kitty Hawk wanted the farm farther offshore, plus was worried about visual clutter of farm-to-shore transmission lines.

Southern Environmental Law Center,  US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Marine Mammal Commission, while largely supportive of wind energy, urged the bureau to conduct thorough environmental assessments and offset potential harm to birds, sea life and ecosystems.

Eight companies filed paperwork with the bureau to participate in the auction: Avangrid Renewables, which owns an onshore wind farm near Elizabeth City; Enbridge Holdings/Green Energy in Houston; Shell WindEnergy; Wind Future LLC, Outer Banks Ocean Energy in Charlottesville, Va.; PNE in Chicago, a multi-international company Statoil; and WPD Offshore Alpha, based in Bremen, Germany.

Wind energy and its more popular renewable sibling, solar power, are key to a resolution filed today by State Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat. HR 401  would shift North Carolina to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. If the resolution passes (unlikely, but Harrison gets points for chipping away at the fossil fuel block) the state could spend the next 33 years weaning itself off the coal/natural gas teat. Converting to 100 percent clean energy could help the planet avoid what the resolution describes as a “climate catastrophe.”

In addition to the enormous wind energy potential, North Carolina had 1,140 megawatts of solar electric capacity in 2015, placing the state second in the nation.  Of that capacity, the industry has installed enough infrastructure to power 260,000 homes — roughly equivalent to the population of Durham County. And In 2016, the solar industry invested nearly $1.7 billion on installations in the state, an increase of 159 percent over the previous year.

Primary co-sponsors are Democratic Reps. John Autry, Jean Farmer-Butterfield and Susan Fisher.

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