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Duke Energy hints it may bid for a wind energy lease off NC coast

 A computer simulation shows what a 200-turbine wind farm at the Wilmington East / Carolina Long Bay site would look like from Oak Island. The area is 15 miles offshore.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
A computer simulation shows what a 200-turbine wind farm at the Wilmington East / Carolina Long Bay site would look like from Oak Island. The area is 15 miles offshore.

Duke Energy does not have wind farms in the Carolinas, but the utility says wind energy could be part of its long-term strategy to cut carbon emissions from electricity generation. CEO Lynn Good hinted recently that the Charlotte-based company is looking at offshore wind energy along the Atlantic Coast. 

Scott Ritchie
Duke Energy
Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good

"We are evaluating offshore wind," Good told analysts after Duke Energy reported its latest quarterly profit two weeks ago. "I think you may have noticed there was a proposed sale notice issued for a lease off the coast of North Carolina. The Kitty Hawk lease area is also there, so I would just say there's more to come here."

Good's remarks are the strongest sign yet that Duke Energy could be a bidder for the Wilmington East, or Carolina Long Bay, wind energy area, about 15 miles off Bald Head Island.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced in late October that it plans to lease the area about 24 miles off Wilmington for wind development. Plans call for developing about 1.5 gigawatts of wind energy in a 200-square-mile area — enough power for about 500,000 homes. 

Wilmington East would be the second lease area off North Carolina, after the Kitty Hawk site. 

Wind energy is a priority for President Joe Biden and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. This spring, Biden announced a national goal of building 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. In June, Gov. Roy Cooper set North Carolina goals of 2.8 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 , and 8 gigawatts by 2040.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management  
Bureau Of Ocean Energy Management
Map shows the Kitty Hawk and Carolina Long Bay/Wilmington East offshore wind areas. Federal officials want to lease the Wilmington site to a wind energy developer as soon as next year.

Just how big a part wind plays in the state's future energy mix will be up to state utilities regulators.  The energy reform bill that Cooper signed in October orders regulators to draft a plan by the end of next year to meet the governor's goals for reducing carbon emissions from energy plants. Duke Energy is part of discussions on the plan, which is expected to include replacing coal-fired plants and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Duke Energy and the state want to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from energy production 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and to be carbon-neutral by 2050. That's a key part of the strategy to limit global warming and climate change. 

A company called Avangrid has a federal lease to develop the so-called Kitty Hawk Offshore wind energy area, 27 miles off the Outer Banks. It would generate about 2,500 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 700,000 homes. 

Duke Energy also could choose to bid on the lease through its unregulated commercial renewable energy business. "Nothing has been decided," a company spokesperson said this week when asked about the possibility.  

Meanwhile, there has been some opposition to the Wilmington East leasing plan. Some Brunswick County communities are concerned that a wind farm would damage the view and hurt tourism.

A version of this story first appeared in WFAE's Climate newsletter, which is emailed to subscribers every Thursday. Subscribe below.
Copyright 2021 WFAE. To see more, visit WFAE.

David Boraks is a WFAE weekend host and a producer for "Charlotte Talks." He's a veteran Charlotte-area journalist who has worked part-time at WFAE since 2007 and for other outlets including and The Charlotte Observer.
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