Spoiler alert: You can’t see the potential offshore wind farm from shore. That’s according to renderings released Friday by the Offshore Wind for North Carolina, an organization created by the Southeastern Wind Coalition.
The sample visualizations depict what an offshore wind farm installed 15 nautical miles (nm) off the coast of Bald Head Island would look like, as Wilmington East – an ocean-bound area in federal jurisdiction set to be auctioned in a forthcoming lease – is currently in the pre-permitting phase.
Visuals depict clear- and hazy-day views from Bald Head Island, Oak Island and Holden Beach of full build-out conditions. In each clear rendering, the turbines are not visible to an average viewer if observing as intended.
Printed on 11-by-17-inch sheets, the visualizations were designed to be witnessed in-person (online simulations are now available
, best viewed with the highest definition). The nonprofit tapped UNASYS, an English energy sector company that specializes in crafting hyper-specific virtual models of projects to reduce risk, to create the depictions, which were funded by the U.K. government.
In the absence of site-specific renderings from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is planning to lease the space, the nonprofit’s simulations provide the region a realistic anticipated view.
For four hours Friday, Offshore Wind for North Carolina held an open house at the Southport Community Center, allowing the public to get a glimpse of what the future view of the turbines might entail. The room was full the entire open house, according to Southeastern Wind Coalition director Katharine Kollins, with well over 100 attendees.
No one claimed they could see the turbines when viewed as intended, Kollins said. In fact, she said the opposite happened: Upon seeing nothing on the shoreline, some attendees questioned, "‘Are you sure you did this right?’”
When viewed closely or zoomed in, the turbines dot the horizon. “Every inch forward you move your face, it’s like getting on a boat and going out another mile,” she said.
Viewshed impacts have been the chief thorn for coastal governments in Brunswick County, which banded together last summer in passing resolutions opposing turbines any closer than 24 nm from land. Despite repeated requests to push the buildable barrier back at least that far, BOEM has so far stuck to its current 127,865-acre potential lease space, which begins at 15 nm from shore but could shift based on stakeholder feedback.
Bald Head Island Mayor Peter Quinn said he could not see the turbines in the depictions. While cautioning that he was speaking for himself and not his constituents, Quinn said his visual concerns were quelled. “I am satisfied,” he said.
Beyond viewshed impacts to the horizon, the project’s progression will open up more concerns for the tiny island village closest to the planned installation. Quinn said he has questions about grid connectivity (the connection point is still undetermined), debris procedure, viewshed and maritime disruptions to ferry service caused by installation and decommissioning and more.
“The rewards that people tout, where are those actually?” Quinn said. “They don't know yet and I don't expect them to know, but those were concerns as well.”
On Thursday, the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors voted to approve a resolution supporting "continued exploration of the Bureau of Energy Management’s plan for the Wilmington East Offshore Wind Lease to be auctioned later this year."
The chamber’s decision comes following a presentation its policy committee heard Tuesday from the N.C. Department of Commerce's Office of Science, Technology & Innovation covering the untapped potential offshore wind energy presents for the state.
Commerce officials told policy committee members the economic benefits the project could lure would stretch as far as Elizabethtown, boosting the entire Cape Fear region untold billions in economic opportunity. A report released this month by the Southeastern Wind Coalition found that constructing 2.8 gigawatts of offshore wind – the benchmark set in place by Governor Cooper in July via Executive Order 218
– would spur an economic benefit to the state of up to $4.6 billion.
The board of directors discussed visual and environmental impacts before passing the resolution of support, according to a chamber spokesperson. The resolution acknowledges the region’s current ability to support research and workforce development with its existing resources via the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s new Blue Economy arm and Cape Fear Community College’s marine technology division.
“The Board of Directors is energized in our support of the state’s continued efforts to grow clean energy technology and the jobs associated with the technology,” the resolution stated.
Moving forward, BOEM will have to release a final sale notice and hold an auction, tentatively planned in May 2020. Obtaining the lease does not guarantee the project’s fruition; the eventual leasee would not begin installation until site and construction plans are approved by BOEM.
Corrections: This version corrects the stance the Wilmington Chamber took in a resolution this week on the Wilmington East Offshore Wind Lease and the entity that made a presentation to the local chamber this week.