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Policy Memo: Promoting Offshore Wind in North Carolina With an Executive Order

Anna Hofmann

This policy memo was completed as part of the Yale Center for Business and the Environment’s online Financing and Deploying Clean Energy certificate program, which trains and connects rising leaders to catalyze the transition to a clean economy. The application for the certificate’s 2020-2021 cohort is now open. Learn more and apply here by March 1, 2020.

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Subject:  An Executive Order for Offshore Wind

To:  North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper

From:  Anna Hofmann, Financing and Deploying Clean Energy certificate program participant

Date:  January 21, 2020

North Carolina has the potential to be a leader in offshore wind development, and the governor’s guidance can help jumpstart the industry. The North Carolina Clean Energy Plan: Transitioning to a 21st Century Electricity System, released in 2019 by the Department of Environmental Quality, emphasized the Cooper administration’s intentions to limit the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and support the local clean energy industry. The plan’s offshore wind assessment will help the state gauge the investment required to upgrade ports and manufacturing facilities to support an offshore wind industry in the state. As a new market, however, the industry needs a stronger signal of interest. An executive order setting a goal for offshore wind development will show the wind industry that North Carolina intends to significantly invest in the sector. North Carolinians will benefit from offshore wind development in multiple ways: It will power their lives with a local resource that has been previously untapped, create well-paid jobs, keep young professionals in the state, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Utilizing North Carolina’s Natural Resource

North Carolina has the largest potential for offshore wind of any U.S. Atlantic state. According to Oceana, the state has 37.9 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind that are economically recoverable. 37.9 GW of offshore wind would produce enough energy each year to power approximately 12.8 million average U.S. homes. In 2017, the state produced 26% of its electricity from coal and 30% of its electricity from natural gas, all of which is imported from out of state. Offshore wind offers North Carolina the opportunity to produce more energy with its own natural resources, capturing the economic benefits and keeping jobs at home for its residents.

Creating Well-Paid Jobs

Offshore wind development in the state has the potential to create thousands of jobs and attract manufacturing facilities to the region. According to research by E2 and BW Research Partnership, the construction of one 352-megawatt (MW) offshore wind farm in North Carolina would create over 5,000 jobs and operating the wind farm would create 191 full-time jobs. With 37.9 GW of potential wind development off the coast, this industry could create thousands of jobs. The report also found that a 352-MW project would generate over $28 million in local and state taxes during construction and over $1 million during operation. As the state with the 10th-highest unemployment rate in the country, North Carolina has an opportunity to attract well-paid jobs through the wind industry. Wind turbine technician is the second-fastest growing job in the country and has an average salary of $54,370, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

North Carolinians will benefit from offshore wind development in multiple ways: It will power their lives with a local resource that has been previously untapped, create well-paid jobs, keep young professionals in the state, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, no manufacturing facilities devoted to offshore wind components have been built in the U.S. to date. A state goal for offshore wind development could help attract manufacturing companies to the region. North Carolina is uniquely situated to be a hub for the industry because of its wind resources, development in neighboring states like Maryland and Virginia, and proximity to Clemson University’s offshore wind turbine testing facility. The state should work to position itself as a leader in this region in order to fully capitalize on the benefits of having local manufacturing facilities and ports capable of handling offshore wind equipment.

Keeping Young Professionals In-State

Colleges and universities are training young professionals to be wind technicians and researchers in North Carolina. Duke University, North Carolina State University, Central Carolina Community College, Cape Fear Community College and others all have wind training programs. A strong wind industry in the state will help provide jobs for these trained professionals after graduation. If more young professionals are able to get well-paid local jobs and stay in state, North Carolina will benefit economically. The wind industry could play a key role in workforce development and job creation in the state.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Offshore wind will be a useful resource to move the state towards the emission reductions goals laid out in the North Carolina Clean Energy Plan. The draft plan sets a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced by the electricity sector by 60-70% below 2005 levels by 2030 and ultimately moving towards zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In 2017, the state produced over 150 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The power sector was the largest contributor, with about 35% of emissions. Offshore wind is a low-carbon source of energy and can help lower these emissions. While operating and generating electricity, wind turbines produce no carbon emissions.

Responding to Concerns and Moving Forward

Wind turbines’ interaction with military training routes in North Carolina is currently one of the state legislature’s leading concerns about wind energy development. However, there is a formal process for reviewing wind projects to ensure that military operations are not impacted. The Military Aviation and Installation Assurance Siting Clearinghouse is an office that reviews the impacts of energy and transmission projects on military activities. The Army, Navy, and Air Force all sit on its board of directors. The office also helps identify mitigation strategies if any adverse impacts are found during the evaluation process and communicates directly with wind developers.

In 2018, a study commissioned by the Clearinghouse found that the state’s Amazon Wind Farm did not interfere with Navy radars, despite a state legislator who sponsored an 18-month wind development moratorium claiming that the project did. Because of this established system for assessment, state-wide bans on wind energy unnecessarily limit the benefits that communities can realize from projects.

Offshore wind in North Carolina would create well-paid jobs and allow residents to capture the economic benefits of generating energy in their own state. An executive order setting a goal for development would signal to the industry that there is a market for their business in the state.

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