Plans are moving forward that could see up to three wind turbines placed in the Pamlico Sound as early as next year to provide power for homes on the Outer Banks. It's all part of a first step that could see massive wind farms placed out in the ocean.
UNC Marine Sciences professor Dr. Harvey Seim is one of the lead researchers for the project between North Carolina and Duke Energy. At his lab in Chapel Hill, he showed us equipment that will be placed in the sound in the coming months to measure the strength of the waves.
The demonstration project would see the turbines placed in the Pamlico Sound, likely ten miles west of Avon and northwest of Buxton. The turbines would provide about ten megawatts of power for about 3,000 homes.
Dr. Seim says, "The blades sweep up to about 450 to 500 feet above the water surface. So they're big structures."
The size of the turbines is a big concern for some. Some business owners, residents and others worry they could ruin the view from the beach. Dr. Seim says,
"At seven to ten miles from shore they're quite small when you're standing on the shore looking out into the sound."
Tourists like Bill Lynch say they're all for wind energy. "With all the stuff going on in the world with the economy, I would think that with oil, anything that would be eco-friendly would be great."
Dr. Seim says the potential exists to supply North Carolina with 100-percent of its power from wind, but that would mean placing turbines in all of the areas under consideration. Right now the goal is 20-percent, which he says would help reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, while creating tens-of-thousands of jobs.
Before the demonstration project gets off the ground, the Army Corps of Engineers has many questions it wants answered before issuing a permit, including the potential impact to migratory birds, possible disruption to essential fish habitats and the overall sea floor. Planners also say they need to account for, ironically, the impact strong winds from hurricanes would have on the turbines.
Officials say it's to early to tell what wind turbines would mean for electric rates.
There is one other offshore wind project that already has a permit off the coast of Massachusetts, but construction has not started and officials here still think they can get the turbines in the water first.