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Feds to begin leasing process for wind farms off Wilmington

A wind farm in Wyoming
Matt Young
In this file photo, a wind farm in Wyoming generates electricity for a region that used to be more dependent on coal-fired power plants.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Thursday that it's going ahead with the lease of a nearly 200-square mile area off the North Carolina coast for offshore wind development.

On Monday, the department will publish a notice in the Federal Register proposing the lease sale of a large portion of the Wilmington East Wind Energy Area, starting a 60-day public comment period that lasts until Jan. 3, 2021, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

When completed, the Wilmington East area could generate more than 1.5 gigawatts of electricity, enough for more than 500,000 homes, according to the department. By comparison, Duke Energy’s natural gas-powered Sutton Plant near Wilmington has a capacity of 625 megawatts, less than half the offshore wind area’s potential.

President Joe Biden has set a national goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind built by 2030. Earlier this year, Gov. Roy Cooper announced state targets of 2.8 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 and 8 gigawatts by 2040.

Energy legislation passed by the General Assembly requires Duke Energy to reduce carbon emissions by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. But the bill also gives the N.C. Utilities Commission the ability to delay those targets if the company is pursuing offshore energy or a new nuclear plant.

If the project goes ahead, it would be the second area off North Carolina’s coast leased for wind energy development, joining a site off Kitty Hawk that was leased by auction four years ago. The Kitty Hawk site has the potential for 2.5 gigawatts of power, according to Avangrid, which leased the area.

The Wilmington East project has been met with some opposition in Brunswick County, where local governments and the county commissioners have passed resolutions opposing the construction of any wind farms within 24 nautical miles of the coast in order to protect the view.

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