BRUNSWICK COUNTY — There’s a campaign afoot in Brunswick County and its coastal townships to thwart the installation of offshore wind turbines within 24 nautical miles of the shoreline.
The opposition movement began earlier this summer in Bald Head Island. The village council approved a resolution in May that makes it clear any efforts to place wind farms within the island’s viewshed — the territory of ocean in which the turbines could be seen from the beach, or the Old Baldy lighthouse — will be met with a fight.
The campaign spread to neighboring coastal towns, with Ocean Isle Beach and Sunset Beach passing similar resolutions in July. With the tourism economy in mind, beach-town politicians across Brunswick County feared if an offshore wind farm were visible from the shoreline, it would deter would-be beachgoers and corrupt views.
As stated in the Bald Head resolution: “Such a change would represent for us the most destructive commitment of ocean resources that we have ever heard proposed in North Carolina — one that could irreversibly damage the natural environment and resources that we cherish and that drive our economy.”
The Brunswick County Board of Commissioners added to the chorus Monday, approving a resolution that says allowing wind farms within 24 nautical miles of the coast would damage tourism and the county’s economy by “transforming open ocean views to views of massive industrial machinery.”
Meanwhile, the federal government is ramping up plans for the renewable energy source in waters offshore of the east coast. Last week the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) began the process of kickstarting an environmental review for a “wind lease” in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Outer Banks.
Wind developers pay the bureau for exclusive rights to huge chunks of ocean territory in cases like this where they’re looking to install offshore energy sources. North Carolina only has jurisdiction for 3 miles beyond the coastline. The Kitty Hawk wind farm will consist of up to 69 wind turbine generators if approved; it’s part of the Biden administration’s effort to create 80,000 jobs through the development of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030.
BOEM also has its sights on two other portions of ocean domain in the vicinity of North Carolina — one called the “Wilmington East” wind energy area and the other called “Wilmington West.”
The rub for the coastal towns of Brunswick County is that Kitty Hawk’s wind farm was buffered at least 24 nautical miles out into the ocean at its closest point to shore. In most places, it is at a far greater distance, making it impossible for locals and Outer Banks tourists to see the turbines from the coast.
The two wind energy areas offshore of Brunswick County, however, are a different scene. The Wilmington West area begins about 10 nautical miles from shore, and the Wilmington East area starts about 15 nautical miles south of Bald Head Island.
“I think we need to go on record as having concerns,” Ocean Isle Beach Mayor Debbie Smith said at a July board of commissioners meeting when the resolution was discussed. “And we need to follow up and keep that pressure.”
BOEM is in the planning stages for potentially issuing new leases offshore of the Carolinas. In July the bureau hosted a task force meeting with intergovernmental stakeholders.
The Wilmington East area, in particular, is being considered for a lease sale, and BOEM is also seeking comment on whether to consider Wilmington West for a lease sale.
BOEM anticipates holding an auction for an offshore lease in the Carolina region next year, according to a bureau spokesperson.
The push from BOEM to get new projects like Kitty Hawk off the ground dovetails with Gov. Roy Cooper’s intentions. He signed an executive order in June with the goal of making N.C. a state friendly to wind farm development. It targets development of 2.8 gigawatts of offshore wind energy resources by 2030 and 8 gigawatts by 2040.
“Offshore wind power will create jobs and help the state develop a clean energy economy,” a spokesperson for Cooper wrote in an email. “Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 218 sets a vision for offshore wind development to move the state to a clean energy future and increase supply chain and manufacturing opportunities.”
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