Plans for a massive wind farm off the North Carolina coast are “moving faster than I think anybody anticipated,” says Avangrid Renewables CEO Laura Beane.
In an interview, Beane, whose firm won preliminary leasing rights for 122,000 acres off the coast of Kitty Hawk last year, says a project could be online as early as 2025.
“A lot of it just has to do with the market conditions coming together that make it very competitive,” she says, noting that improvements in both process and technology, including bigger turbines being developed, are making the numbers work in off-shore's favor. “Costs are coming down. We have Europe to thank for that … They’ve paved the ground for that in off-shore.”
But what’s happening in the Northeast – aggressive renewable energy targets coupled with a lack of land – is really driving the push for off-shore stateside.
“You’re competing with on-shore wind and solar that are far away from the load centers, which is going to require high voltage transmission builds … hundreds of miles long,” she says. “When you combine all those costs … Off-shore becomes very, very competitive.”
And, as her team pushes forward in the planning process, proponents of off-shore wind are already rallying in North Carolina.
Katharine Kollins, president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition, says her organization is working to convene an “off-shore working group.” The group will be made up of organizations like hers, and hopes to attract officials from Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration. It is intended to bring attention to off-shore opportunities for the state.
“It will be a regional effort, no matter whose coast this project borders,” she says. “The supply chain and a lot of economic development is going to be a regional effort.”
She says she’s hoping to see Cooper’s office mobilize with other departments, from Commerce to Labor.
“This is going to be a huge industry across the entire region, so what portion of that industry does North Carolina want?” she says. “If North Carolina wants a portion, North Carolina better start recruiting those companies now.”
In the meantime, Beane says her team is hard at work, having already launched the process to obtain a permit.
“Our on-shore experience absolutely provides a competitive advantage for our off-shore activity,” she says, pointing to its already-in-operation wind farm near Elizabeth City, which is producing power for Amazon.
One thing Beane is not worried about in this case is a wind moratorium enacted by the state legislature last year. Since the Avangrid project is off-shore, the actual farm would fall under federal purview, though officials have said it’s possible the company might have to obtain permissions for transmission equipment that will link the turbines to the coastline. Beane says support she’s seeing outweighs controversy.
“I have confidence that the desire for energy in that state and in that region will overcome political challenges,” she says.
Previously, Avangrid officials had said getting off-shore wind to North Carolina would be "well beyond 2020." Outside experts had predicted that, with all the access issues, it could take well over a decade. Beane says that, internally, the firm had looked at "the late 2020s" for the Kitty Hawk project, but have accelerated their plans in recent months.