Guest Opinion: Offshore wind energy checks all the boxes: affordable, reliable, clean and economically sound

Published 2:05 pm Thursday, October 3, 2019

By Katharine Kollins

Offshore wind checks all the boxes on North Carolina’s energy wish list: it’s affordable, reliable, doesn’t pollute our air and water, and creates economic development opportunities statewide. It’s an energy source with significant upside. Excellent potential for offshore wind exists off North Carolina’s coastline. Offshore wind is a clean, domestically produced source of electricity that will help North Carolina diversify its generation sources and guard ratepayers against future price spikes.

Offshore wind is affordable. The fuel source – wind – is, of course, free. The infrastructure does come with a price tag but imagine the security in knowing that once the turbines are spinning far off the coast, we don’t have to give another thought to fuel pricing or availability. No concerns over price volatility or fuel supply.

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And the costs for these turbines are falling. Currently none of the major components for offshore wind turbines are manufactured in the U.S. Once we have a domestic supply chain, offshore wind projects won’t need to pay to ship components from Europe. In addition, buying components from right here in the U.S means more high-paying jobs.

Offshore wind is strong, reliable, and predictable. While offshore breezes spin wind turbines nearly continuously, wind blows strongest at night, and that kind of predictability helps utilities plan to receive the power onto the grid.

Offshore wind doesn’t pollute our air and water. Polling shows that North Carolinians want more of their electricity to be powered with clean energy sources. With offshore wind, we have a modern source of energy that doesn’t produce harmful byproducts.

Offshore wind creates economic development opportunities statewide, adding to the dozens of existing manufacturing facilities already located here and employing more than 1,000 North Carolinians. According to a 2019 Special Initiative for Offshore Wind report, the offshore wind industry will create approximately $70 billion in capital expenditure opportunities for U.S businesses in the offshore wind manufacturing supply chain by 2030. North Carolina could see $1 billion to $5 billion invested in-state from a 2,000 megawatt project – roughly the size of the Kitty Hawk Wind Energy Area leased by Avangrid Renewables. The Kitty Hawk project, which would be more than 20 miles offshore, is currently under review for possible development.

Offshore wind farms can also benefit tourism in coastal communities. A study conducted by the University of Rhode Island indicated a 19 percent increase in occupancy rates and $3,490 increase in monthly rental revenue for Airbnb properties on Block Island after the construction of their offshore wind farm. The project is located three miles off the coast of the upscale vacation island, which has also seen a boost in recreational fishing and helicopter tour charters.

To enjoy these benefits, we have to do something. A passive approach won’t yield economic investments and industrial growth. A passive approach paves the way for other states along the East Coast to happily take the opportunities that could be ours.

A proactive approach involves conducting a manufacturing supply chain analysis that would provide a roadmap for the most cost-effective ways to attract offshore wind supply chain industries to North Carolina.

A proactive approach involves assessing our ports to establish for prospects that North Carolina does indeed have existing infrastructure and attributes that are assets for their industry. North Carolina’s world-class ports and skilled workforce already have the experience from moving thousands of different kinds of goods through the ports and are well equipped to handle this new, high-tech manufacturing industry. But there are some gaps we need to identify and address up front to keep us competitive in the process.

A proactive approach involves exploring a regional collaboration with neighboring states to effectively compete with more aggressive states in the Northeast whose additional years of experience with the offshore wind industry currently gives them an edge.

Fortunately, in the same way that offshore wind checks all the boxes for customers, North Carolina checks all the boxes for offshore wind development and industry. We have a lot going for us, but we have to get in the game if we have any chance of winning the business. Offshore wind is affordable, reliable, clean, and economically promising. We have every reason to responsibly pursue this new industry.

Katharine Kollins is president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition, which works in 11 states to promote land-based and offshore wind, wind imports, and the regions’ supply chain assets.