Energy Supply Studies
Coastal Wind: Energy for North Carolina’s Future
At the request of the North Carolina General Assembly the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted a 9-month study to assess the feasibility of installing wind turbines in the sounds and off the coast of North Carolina. The request specified that the assessment include an analysis of the spatial distributions of available wind power, ecological risks and synergies, use conflicts affecting site selection, foundation systems and their compatibility with sound and ocean bottom geology and associated geologic dynamics, electric transmission infrastructure, utility statutory and regulatory barriers, the legal context, carbon reduction potential, and economics. Discrete work components were addressed by a project team that drew upon expertise within the University as well as consultants.
This study finds there is potential for utility-scale production of wind energy off the coast of North Carolina and possibly within eastern Pamlico Sound. A synthesis of the geological, ecological and use conflict components indicates that wind energy development in North Carolina and offshore waters is subject to a variety of spatially-varying constraints. Areas unfavorable for wind energy development are identified and are found to exclude most State waters with the exception of eastern Pamlico Sound. This study confirms that, because of a promising wind resource, large areas offshore of the North Carolina coastline are potentially well-suited for wind energy development and worthy of further investigation. A high-level review of utility transmission infrastructure in eastern North Carolina suggests some capacity to accommodate offshore generation but upgrades may be required; further study is needed. Existing State law presents significant legal and permitting barriers to development in State waters and should be revised and new federal regulatory processes deserve careful attention. Few regulatory incentives exist for wind energy; several options to improve incentives are discussed. A high-level economic screening suggests the levelized cost of generation for either inshore or offshore development is in the $101-106 per MWh range. Significant carbon emission reduction is anticipated as a result of a utility-scale generation facility assuming an offset of fossil fuel power. North Carolina is well positioned to develop utility scale wind energy production and it is the opinion of the project team that the State should pursue it aggressively.