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BOEM next to look at NC for offshore wind

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BOEM next to look at NC for offshore wind

Afterseveral steps by the federal government in just the past month to move stateslike New York andHawaii closer tohosting offshore wind, North Carolina could be the next state to take stridestoward completing the long regulatory process needed to install floatingturbines off the state's beaches.

Thissummer, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Managementplans to propose ocean areas near the North Carolina coast that could be leasedto potential offshore wind developers.

Butoffshore wind in North Carolina could at some point be limited by thesignificant commercial interests that want the views from the state's coast tostay pristine. A recent study released by North Carolina StateUniversity researchers garnered some local media attention with its conclusionthat an offshore wind farm could be an economic drain on North Carolina tourismindustry by reducing the rents from beach vacation homes.

Lastyear the BOEM foundno major environmental impacts of leasing in three areas covering 300,000 ofacres of ocean near North Carolina. One of these, the Kitty Hawk Wind EnergyArea, is off North Carolina's Outer Banks, a region popular withtourists.

In2013, the BOEM identified five different potential offshore wind developersthat have expressed interest in leasing portions of the Outer Continental Shelfnear North Carolina: DominionResources Inc. utility subsidiary ,EDF Group subsidiaryEDF Renewable Development,New Jersey-based offshore wind company Fishermen'sEnergy LLC, Green Sail Energy LLC and Outer Banks Ocean Energy LLC.

Thenext step for the BOEM is to publish a proposed sale notice, which will proposea specific area to be leased, describe the process for auctioning the leasesand give developers an opportunity to submit their qualifications. The bureauplans to release that notice for public comment this summer, according to BOEMspokeswoman Tracey Moriarty.

TheKitty Hawk Wind Energy Area begins about 24 nautical miles from shore.The North Carolina State University study revealed some pitfalls for offshorewind farms if they are ever pursued closer to shore. The researchers showedstudy participants a set of photos of offshore wind turbines at variousdistances offshore, from five to 18 miles. The participants were then asked ifthey would rent a beach home with the turbines in view. The study found that54% of participants would not rent a vacation home if turbines were in view atall, even if offered a discount to the rental price. Some participants werewilling to accept the view of the turbines if given discounts of varyingamounts.

Basedon these discounts, the study calculated that a wind farm built five milesoffshore and affecting the views of 1,000 homes would have a negative economicimpact of $31 million over 20 years due to lower rents and the fact that somevacationers would be deterred from renting at all.

Thestudy could have implications for other states considering offshore wind. "Ourfindings are relevant to other coastal regions that are family-orientedcommunities with many repeat visitors and have lower-density development thatis mostly beach houses — these features are common all along the Atlanticseaboard," North Carolina State University Center for Environmental andResource Economic Policy Director Laura Taylor said in a statement.

But North Carolina is likely many years away from a conflicterupting between wind farms and beachfront property.

Duke EnergyCorp., which serves 3.3 million electric retail customers in NorthCarolina through its utility business, has said it is not considering offshorewind at this time. That stance could change if the BOEM starts opening up moreof the nearby ocean to wind turbines. "Anytime it's in our backyard, wewould definitely take a look at it," Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless said.But "right now, our interest is not in the offshore variety."