Guest Opinion: Southeastern Wind Coalition counters ‘false claims’ surrounding the development of offshore wind in North Carolina

Published 7:38 pm Monday, August 9, 2021

By Katharine Kollins

With so much confusion and misinformation surrounding offshore wind development in North Carolina, the Southeastern Wind Coalition aims to deliver evidence-based facts about offshore wind energy to the public.

While offshore wind is currently more expensive to build than solar or gas, wind turbine manufacturers are poised to invest billions in new manufacturing assets on the East coast to fulfill more than 25-gigawatts of demand. This long-term stable pipeline of projects creates certainty for industry needs to build facilities in the U.S. instead of shipping turbines from current manufacturing facilities in Europe.

With a domestic supply chain, ever increasing turbine sizes, and engineering advances that continue to increase efficiencies, the National Renewable Energy laboratory estimates the price of North Carolina offshore wind to be between $46-$53/MWh by the end of this decade, when we would likely see development. That is nearly half the price of what we would anticipate today and certainly in line with other forms of energy generation. Not to mention, offshore wind’s fuel is free, providing a hedge against fluctuating fuel prices.

While the levelized cost of energy is a reasonably comprehensive metric to look at the price of electricity, it is also important to understand overall operating costs of the grid. Offshore wind can provide large scale carbon-free electricity available to coastal states, unmatched by other resources.

A recently published op-ed referenced land-use requirements of generating technologies in an effort to say that offshore wind was inefficient. The metric touted was leased square ocean miles required to host a specific size (M.W.) project. The fantastic thing about wind turbines is that although they are spaced relatively far apart, requiring large spaces for development requires almost no land (or water) use changes. This is the case for both land-based and offshore wind turbines. Take the 208-megawatt Amazon U.S. East project in northeastern North Carolina, for example, which leases farmland across a footprint of 22,000 acres but only removes 200 acres from production. Existing crop farming, livestock grazing, and fishing activities can all take place right up to the turbine base. Offshore wind foundations even create artificial reefs, increasing marine habitats and enhancing fishing grounds.

As utilities and regional transmission organizations (RTOs) plan for grid operations with more significant amounts of intermittent renewables, generator diversity becomes even more critical. Recent weather events around the country have reminded us of the importance of having different sources coming from diverse locations to ensure that when pipelines in one area freeze, coastal breezes in another area can step in and keep electricity flowing.

Modeling done with North Carolina-specific data has shown that offshore wind is extremely complementary to solar and land-based wind resources on both a daily and seasonal basis. Offshore wind generates output nearly all day every day and has an average capacity factor of over 50%, equal to the average combined cycle gas turbine.

Wind turbines are incredibly efficient and one of the most environmentally friendly ways to generate electricity. The lifetime CO2 emissions for wind beat all other energy sources, even when fuel extraction, construction, and operation are considered. Over its lifetime, for each kWh of electricity produced, a wind turbine requires less than 20 grams of CO2 equivalent. For reference, a natural gas combustion turbine averages 570 to 750 grams of CO2 equivalent.

While turbines, like any generator, require the use of steel, some rare earth metals, and other materials, over 85% of a turbine is recycled at the end of its lifetime. Turbine blades are not currently widely recycled, but the U.S. Department of Energy and all major manufacturers are researching how to more efficiently recycle the carbon fiber and polymers used to create strong and light blades.

Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 218 puts North Carolina on a genuine path to clean energy independence. With a goal of 2,800-megawatts of development by 2030, this smart step puts our state in the running for some of the $70B in economic development opportunity expected for the East Coast in this decade alone. States from Massachusetts to Virginia have committed to developing 25,000-megawatts of offshore wind with hundreds of new and existing businesses already working to enter this market and take advantage of building out a clean grid. Arguments to the contrary are based on incomplete or outdated information and should be further vetted by readers who genuinely want to understand the energy opportunities in front of us.

Katharine Kollins is president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition.