Offshore Winds Promise Power

> Sep 06 - The News & Observer, N.C. -
> Far beyond the Outer Banks, the ocean waters could soon give rise
> to a wind energy farm the size of a small town.
> For more than a year, a tiny Chapel Hill company has been laying
> plans for a project that would catapult North Carolina into a national
> leadership role in offshore wind energy development. Outer Banks Ocean
> Energy Corp. is eyeing federal waters about 25 miles offshore to chase
> a dream of harnessing pollution-free electricity generated by some of
> the nation's best wind resources.
> An offshore wind farm has yet to be built in this country, and
> the hurdles are formidable. North Carolina is considered to have
> excellent wind resources, but fierce opposition has shot down
> proposals to build commercial wind projects in the mountains and on
> the coast.
> The planned Cape Lookout Energy Preserve likely would have to
> overcome intense public criticism and rigorous environmental scrutiny.
> The project could take seven years and would cost at least
> $900million. The company would have to secure hurricane-resistant
> towers to the ocean floor.
> Entrepreneur Donald Evans, 74, Outers Banks' founder, calls the
> project a "colossal undertaking" but considers wind one of the best
> energy options. "Offshore wind is an inexhaustible, clean energy
> resource,"
> he
> said. "It's been there since the Earth was here." The Pinehurst
> resident has embraced wind power as the nation's salvation from global
> warming and unpredictable energy costs.
> In the coming months, his company plans to hold community
> meetings in the state's coastal counties to introduce the project to
> the public.
> The
> company also will apply for a federal permit to build towers in the
> ocean to test wind speeds.
> Brisk wind
> Wind provides a little more than 1 percent of the nation's
> electricity, but it's the fastest-growing form of renewable power.
> Wall
> Street financiers and state governments are betting on wind and other
> renewable energy as states enact mandates and Congress debates global
> warming legislation. The Obama administration's stimulus package will
> pump in $3billion to cover 30 percent of the costs for wind farms and
> other renewable energy projects.
> North Carolina lags other states that offer financial incentives
> and have brokered compromises with opponents of offshore wind farms.
> "It's an embryonic industry in the U.S., and developers are going
> to focus their resources and personnel on the most compelling
> projects," said Rob Propes, Carolinas and Delaware project director at
> Bluewater Wind, which is developing projects from Virginia to New
> England.
> Still, Evans expects North Carolina officials to follow the lead
> of other states.
> Outer Banks' proposed 200-megawatt wind farm would generate
> enough power for about 42,000 homes. It would require underwater
> cables costing at least $2million per mile to come across beaches,
> dunes or wetlands.
> Each turbine blade would reach 465 feet into the sky -- nearly as
> tall as the 33-story RBC Plaza in downtown Raleigh. This power plant
> consists of oversize, three-blade propellers that turn tower-mounted
> generators.
> At
> least 50 towers would be required for the first phase, but the exact
> total would be determined by the power capacity of the type of turbine
> selected.
> Even at such a dizzying height, the array of whirling blades
> would not be visible 25 miles from shore. Plans call eventually for
> tripling the size of the wind farm to at least 150 towers over 54
> square miles -- an area nearly the size of Fayetteville -- if demand
> for the electricity increases.
> The Cape Lookout Energy Preserve wouldn't generate electricity
> until at least 2014 -- two years behind a bitterly contested wind farm
> under development on Cape Cod, and a year behind a contentious
> Bluewater Wind project in Delaware. In South Carolina, the Santee
> Cooper power company has begun testing offshore wind speeds as part of
> a plan to develop an ocean-based wind farm.
> The Chapel Hill company still would have to run detailed studies
> on seabed formation, bird flight patterns and fish movements, as well
> as commercial shipping lanes and military training zones. Large
> offshore tracts likely would be removed from consideration by
> conflicting recreational, environmental, commercial and military uses.
> Wind farms typically evoke public controversy over aesthetics,
> property values, noise, shadow flicker, radio reception interference,
> unsightly transmission lines and, at sea, disruptions to popular
> fishing and recreational areas. The blades could pose a threat to
> birds, and the towers could confuse sea turtles and other marine
> animals, but data are scant about offshore effects and would require
> study. Silty ocean bottoms may be unsuitable because they are sources
> of sand for beach renourishment.
> "We expect a lot of questions about it," Evans said. "It's an
> educational process to give the people of North Carolina the
> confidence that we're not here to rape the environment."
> The Outer Banks company, consisting of Evans, a chief financial
> officer and a half-dozen academic advisers, is financed by 16 private
> shareholders. Evans won't say how much money the company has raised or
> from whom, but he estimates it will need $38million to $45million for
> the initial environmental and engineering studies.
> The company also wants to develop technology to tap waves to
> generate electricity.
> If the price is right ...
> Evans is a latecomer to wind power. The 1958 UNC-Chapel Hill
> graduate spent most of this decade as chief executive of Cyberlux, an
> LED lighting maker in Research Triangle Park. He spent the previous
> three decades at Research Econometrics, a venture capital firm in
> McLean, Va., where he helped launch a waste hauling company and a
> cardio-pulmonary instrument company. He learned about wind's energy
> potential after he got involved as a financial contributor for marine
> sciences research at Florida Atlantic University.
> Evans said he has discussed the project with Progress Energy and
> Duke Energy, the power companies that likely would buy the power from
> the Cape Lookout Energy Preserve if it is built. Support from the
> state's politically powerful utilities depends on how much they would
> have to pay for the electricity.
> "They say, 'As long as the cost parameters are in line, we're
> your friend,'" Evans said.
> Getting permits
> The state's electric utilities have been slow to embrace
> renewable energy, citing high costs, but spokesmen with Progress and
> Duke said their companies are interested in offshore wind development.
> North Carolina environmental regulators would have to approve
> permits for undersea and overland power lines close to shore. Coastal
> Resources Commission Chairman Bob Emory, whose agency held hearings on
> offshore wind power last week, said state officials will need at least
> a year to develop policies for offshore wind farms. "We're not in a
> position to issue a permit," Emory said.
> A 2007 state law, which requires electric utilities to tap
> renewable energy, limits how much utilities can spend on green power
> and requires some energy to come from solar power and swine and
> poultry waste. The limits leave little for giant wind farms, said
> James McLawhorn, director of the Electric Division of state consumer
> advocacy agency Public Staff.
> But Evans said his aim is to sell the electricity up and down the
> East Coast.
> "It's like building a nuclear power plant," said John Bane, a
> UNC-Chapel Hill professor of marine science and an Outer Banks company
> board member. "It is a very expensive construction operation, but it
> is one way to generate power without generating carbon dioxide or
> nuclear waste."
> john.murawski@ newsobserver .com or 919-829-8932