Offshore wind farms coming to southeastern NC ::

Offshore wind farms coming to southeastern NC ::

— North Carolina’s budding offshore wind sector has two major new players.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced Wednesday that Duke Energy and TotalEnergies were the winning bidders of its Carolina Long Bay Auction, paving the way for more wind turbines off the coast.

The two adjacent sites are around 55,000 square acres each, located roughly 15 nautical miles south of Bald Head Island. The development shouldn’t be visible from the island or coast, though it’s closer than local leaders were hoping for.

When they’re fully developed several years from now, the sites together could power half a million homes, according to BOEM.

TotalEnergies’ winning bid was $160 million. Duke bid $155 million.

For the first time, BOEM included an optional credit for the auction. Winning bidders could receive a credit of up to 20% of their bid by committing to invest a slightly lesser amount in workforce training programs or boosting the U.S. supply chain for the industry.

The two winning companies will invest a total of up to $42 million in those initiatives.

“The new bidding credit in the Carolina Long Bay auction will result in tangible investments for workforce training and businesses in the United States to ultimately create jobs in the U.S. across the industries needed to support achieving our offshore wind goals,” BOEM Director Amanda Lefton said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, North Carolina is already home to at least 20 manufacturing facilities related to the wind energy industry. The lease credit investments could bring many more.

North Carolina has one other lease already under development off the northern Outer Banks. Avangrid Renewables’ Kitty Hawk project will have the potential to generate 2.5 gigawatts when it’s fully developed. About a quarter of that capacity is expected to come online by 2026, and the remainder by 2030.

Two larger lease sites off the North Carolina coast were announced by BOEM last week. They total more than 1 million acres. It’s not clear whether they’ll be able to be put up for bid before July 1, when a 10-year ban takes effect.

In late 2020, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order declaring a 10-year moratorium on offshore energy development along the Southeastern coast, including North Carolina. No new leases can be issued. It applies to renewable energy as well as oil and gas. Some environmental advocates are urging Congress to take action to overturn the moratorium.

Governor Roy Cooper, D-North Carolina, added his voice to that chorus Thursday.

Calling the new leases “an important step in moving toward North Carolina’s clean energy future,” Cooper spokesman Jordan Monaghan said, “The Governor encourages congressional action to remove the ban on future offshore wind leases off our coast in order to create additional opportunities for clean energy, economic growth, and job creation.”

Meanwhile, environmental advocates cheered the new leases.

“The significance of this auction cannot be overstated,” said Erin Carey, the director of coastal programs for the N.C. Sierra Club. “At a time when our country is struggling with volatility and skyrocketing prices in fossil fuel supply and demand, it’s more important than ever that we look toward a future of clean energy independence.”

According to the Sierra Club, developing North Carolina’s offshore wind potential could bring the state investments of up to $4.3 billion, including jobs and industry infrastructure.

Duke’s lease is likely to play a key role in its proposed plan to reduce carbon emissions. The plan is required by the bipartisan state energy bill, House Bill 951, passed last year. Duke is expected to submit an early draft of its plan to the N.C. Utilities Commission by Monday.

“Securing this lease creates optionality for future offshore wind if the North Carolina Utilities Commission determines it’s part of the least-cost path to achieve 70% carbon reduction by 2030 and net-zero by 2050,” said Stephen De May, North Carolina president for Duke.

“We look forward to [Duke] including significant wind resources in their proposed carbon plan Monday and ensuring that clean, renewable power comes to North Carolina ratepayers, especially those who have been disproportionately the victim of their coal and gas pollution—namely, communities of color,” said Montravias King, clean energy director for the NC League of Conservation Voters.

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