Offshare wind could end up being a key part of powering North Carolina's future as the Utilities Commission finalizes its plan to make energy production carbon neutral by 2050. (AP)

NC - Will NC get offshore wind farms? Right now it's up to one state commission

There’s a swath of ocean just over the horizon off Oak Island, in the southeast corner of North Carolina, that one day could be home to hundreds of towering offshore wind turbines. The project, federal regulators say, could produce as much power as Duke Energy’s nearby Brunswick Nuclear plant.

Duke Energy won the rights to build a wind farm in one of two leases off the coast of Brunswick County and Myrtle Beach, called the Carolina Long Bay area. The company said that lease is not part of the sale it announced recently of its renewable energy business.

What You Need To Know

  • The North Carolina Utilities Commission has a Dec. 31 deadline to release its carbon plan for power companies in the state
  • The General Assembly passed a law last year setting a goal to reduce carbon emissions from power companies by 70% by 2030 and make them carbon neutral by 2050
  • Duke Energy won one of two leases for offshore wind farms off southeastern coast of North Carolina
  • Offshore wind could prove to be a key part of North Carolina's energy production in the future, but advocates and power companies are waiting for the Utilities Commission's final plan

This is all part of a plan, passed last year by the General Assembly, to reduce carbon emissionsfrom power companies by 70% by 2030 and make power generation carbon neutral by 2050.

But how that works, and what role offshore wind plays in North Carolina’s clean energy mix, is now in the hands of the state Utilities Commission. The commission, which oversees North Carolina power companies, has been taking comments and proposals for months.

“We know the absolute earliest we’ve seen anyone projecting offshore wind is in the 2030 timeframe,” said Katherine Kollins, a wind industry advocate who leads the Southeast Wind Coalition. “That still is a lot of lead time, more than I would like.”

The Utilities Commission has a Dec. 31 deadline to release a carbon plan for North Carolina’s power producers. That includes deciding on the mix of power generation for Duke Energy.

“Offshore wind is included in 6 out of 8 scenarios in our proposed North Carolina carbon plan and could help support our carbon reduction goals if the North Carolina Utilities Commission selects offshore wind as part of its final carbon plan,” Duke Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Garber said in an email.

“If we want to see offshore wind developed, it’s got to be in the carbon plan,” Kollins said.“If we want to see offshore wind developed, it’s got to be in the carbon plan,” Kollins said.

Duke Energy recently announced the sale of its renewable energy business, which includes big wind farms in places like Texas and Wyoming. Garber said the new lease for offshore wind off North Carolina is not included in that sale.

Offshore wind has long been part of generating power in parts of Europe and Asia. But it’s a new industry for the United States. The first big East Coast project, off the coast of Massachusetts, has faced problems in recent months with rising prices and supply chain issues.

“What we’re seeing in terms of supply chain shortages or inflationary pressures or various things happening with other projects in the northeast, I don’t think the North Carolina projects are impacted in the same way as those,” Kollins said, mainly because construction on any wind farm off North Carolina is still years away.

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