Five companies are vying to develop wind farms off of North Carolina’s coast, an effort that would promote and produce green energy in the state and the surrounding area.

The federal government introduced the idea in December 2012 by asking companies about their interest in offshore wind development. The five companies interested in building off North Carolina responded in press releases, including Virginia Electric and Power Co., Fishermen’s Energy LLC, EDF Renewable Energy, Green Sail Energy and Apex Wind Energy.

Gov. Patrick McCrory, who continues to promote North Carolina as a potential source of renewable energy in North America, has expressed support for offshore wind farm movement. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management may also propose wind energy developments in several areas offshore in New Jersey, Maryland and Massachusetts.

Two potential development areas lie between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, N.C., and beyond the Outer Banks, all at least six miles from shore. The process will not begin until the federal government finishes an environmental study and auctions offshore leases.

The proposed farms have sparked a debate among environmentalists, business owners and other stakeholders. Some argue the wind farms may disrupt bird migration patterns, military training flights and ocean ecosystems. Others insist the potential benefits of clean energy outweigh the risks.

According to research by the Renewable Energy Laboratory, there are many potential benefits of building offshore windfarms. The lab’s research suggests offshore windfarms could potentially source a large percentage of the North Carolina’s power.

Offshore wind turbines will also support North Carolinians’ economic wellbeing by providing a tax base to keep property taxes low, as reported by WCTI News for Eastern North Carolina.

But there are potential downsides to offshore windfarm development. According to Elon University environmental studies instructor Patricia Thomas-Laemont, companies should only be allowed to build offshore farms if environmental impact is evaluated and dealt with prior to construction.

“There will be damages that upset ocean ecosystems and destruct ocean beds during construction and aesthetics,” Laemont said. “These problems occur daily. The evaluation prior to construction will determine how much this, as well as boat traffic, will occur.”

Wind farms may also affect the flight paths of migration birds, but according to Thomas-Laemont, the benefits to wind energy outweigh the possible effects on birds.

“Studies have shown that placing the wind farms out of migration corridors corrects this issue,” Laemont said. “Birds have learned to avoid these farms in other areas.”

Others have expressed concern regarding business and military affairs. The World Shipping Council, a trade organization representing container vessels, has argued that wind farms off of Kitty Hawk will encroach on shipping routes, while some marines Camp Lejeune fear that Wind turbine blades can disfigure radar images for pilots and ground control, making training exercises dangerous and difficult.

The debate over wind farms is likely to continue for a while. According to the North Carolina Offshore Wind Coalition, it may take more than five years to begin wind farm and turbine construction because of delays caused by political and environmental issues.

Laemont said she hopes the process eventually gets underway.

“I think the benefits to wind energy off of North Carolina outweigh the negatives,” Laemont said. “We can combat any environmental disadvantages as they are about to occur.”


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