Two Virginia companies vie to build wind farms off NC coastline

Five companies, including Richmond-based Dominion Resources Inc. and a Charlottesville-based company, are interested in developing wind farms in the ocean off North Carolina.

The firms hope to take advantage of what some officials say could be the East Coast’s most promising chance to create energy through giant turbines anchored to the sea floor.

The idea is embraced by North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the Sierra Club alike, who see North Carolina as the next potential center for renewable energy in America.

But big obstacles remain before the whirling farms become a reality.

The federal government asked companies in December if they’d be interested in North Carolina offshore wind development.

Five responded positively in filings released Tuesday.

One is Dominion Virginia Power, the subsidiary of Dominion Resources, which operates a utility in northeastern North Carolina.

The other is Apex Wind Energy of Charlottesville.

“We responded we are interested, but there is a long way to go,” Dominion spokesman Dan Genest said. “We are interested. We would like to be a player. There’s a lot we have to learn, though.”

In addition to North Carolina, Dominion Resources and Apex have expressed interest in commercial development of a lease area 22 miles off the Virginia coast. Six other firms also are interested.

But the federal government has not yet set a date for the online auction of the 112,799-acre tract of Virginia’s shores.

The federal agency also has to finish an environmental study in North Carolina before auctioning the offshore leases there.

The agency needs to decide whether to change the areas considered for wind farms in light of newly released public comments.

Those include the assertion of the World Shipping Council, a trade association that represents container vessels, that inviting wind farm proposals off Kitty Hawk, N.C., is “dangerous and imprudent” for shipping.

Two potential development areas are between Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C., while another is beyond North Carolina’s Outer Banks region, across from the island towns of Kitty Hawk, Nags Head and Manteo. All potential areas are at least 6 miles from shore.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates suggest that North Carolina’s offshore wind potential is the highest on the East Coast.

The five companies interested in leasing did not make binding commitments or detailed proposals. But Brian O’Hara, president of the North Carolina Offshore Wind Coalition, said their responses are still a good sign that wind farms will be coming.

“I’m excited to see this level of interest. This is great,” he said. “The chances are very good. I don’t think it’s a question of ‘if’; I think it’s a question of ‘when.’ ”

Wind farm development is not a fast process. O’Hara said it could be at least five years before the turbine construction would begin.

“There has to be some sort of agreement for where the power is going,” he said.

Other East Coast offshore wind farms have a head start on North Carolina, although they have run into problems. That includes a proposal for wind turbines off the coast of Atlantic City, N.J., made by Fishermen’s Energy LLC, which is among the companies to express interest in leasing waters off North Carolina.

Other companies who said they have an interest in North Carolina leases are EDF Renewable Energy, a subsidiary of a French company; and Green Sail Energy of New Jersey.

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