The Pros and Cons of Wind Energy
Locals gather to hear about the proposed wind farm off the Brunswick County coast.
The proposed wind energy project to be built off the shores of Brunswick County was the topic of a late February session held at the St. James Community Center and attended by nearly 100 local residents. Both the pros and cons of moving ahead with the massive project were presented.
The informational meeting, co-sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Southport-Oak Island and the Southport-Oak Island Chamber of Commerce, featured representatives from Total Energy Renewables USA, which bid $160 million to lease part of the 110,000-acre project area known as Wilmington East or Carolina Long Bay. Also on hand was John Graves, a Southport-based financial consultant and author of the book Broken Wing: Birds, Blades and Broken Promises, which questions the efficacy of wind energy.
The other company granted a provisional lease to place wind turbines in the Wilmington East/Carolina Long Bay project area was Duke Energy Renewables, which bid $155 million. The wind turbines for both energy companies will be located approximately 20 miles from Bald Head Island and are expected to generate 1.3-gigawatts of energy, or enough to power about 500,000 homes.
Jen Banks, permitting and development director for Total Energy, said after 15 years of research and planning by federal and state authorities, there were three main reasons Wilmington East was deemed to be an ideal location for offshore wind development: a large electricity demand in this area, good offshore wind speeds close to the shore, and a continental shelf that drops off slowly. The latter is important because it allows for development of fixed-foundation construction located farther offshore.
In outlining the various steps that occurred in the 15 years prior to the issuing of leases in 2022, Banks assured attendees that many factors — such as fishing, navigation and military posts — were considered and thoroughly reviewed before a decision was made to green-light the Wilmington East project.
The project offers “very substantial opportunities for the state of North Carolina,” said Michelle Querry, southeast regional director for the Chamber for Innovation and Clean Energy, a nationwide network of 1,300 chambers of commerce and economic development organizations that works to advance a clean energy economy. “It’s going to create jobs in a wide range of industries, and North Carolina is well positioned to receive a lot of this activity.”
Susan Monroe, community engagement manager for Total Energy’s Carolina Long Bay project, echoed Querry’s claim. “This project is going to offer your communities the opportunity to diversify your economic space,” Monroe said. “It’s going to bring high-paying permanent and year-round jobs. Tax revenue will go up as well.”
The Total Energy lease bid, Monroe added, includes a $21 million investment to support job creation, educational opportunities, and supply chain development in the region. An additional $21 million for these initiatives is expected from Duke Energy as well, she said.
Monroe said there are 8,000 components in a wind turbine and that the state already has 55 companies that manufacture wind-energy components. The goal, she said, is to attract these manufacturers and others like them to Brunswick County.
Not everyone in attendance was as enthusiastic about the project’s potential, however.
“The more money spent chasing something [like Wilmington East], the more opportunities for abuse,” said Graves, the financial consultant and author. “Who is going to pay for those billions of dollars given away?” The answer, according to Graves: ratepayers, taxpayers and the poorest Carolinians.
He also argued that more than 70% of North Carolina’s energy already comes from carbon-friendly sources — natural gas and nuclear. “They also happen to be the two most energy-efficient sources available,” he said.
In addition to discussing the economic and scientific challenges associated with wind energy, Graves also took issue with design, engineering, maintenance and decommissioning claims made by wind energy companies. He claimed, for example, that wind turbines break down an average of four times per year and that a turbine’s life expectancy is about five years — well below the 25-year assumed expectancy claimed by manufacturers.
Total Energy and Duke Energy have until July 1 to finalize their leases with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Want to know more?
For more information you can visit the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management at boem.gov/renewable-energy/state-activities/north-carolina-activities