A century ago, the Wright Brothers came to North Carolina and discovered the secrets of flight on the strength of abundant coastal winds.
A steady wind still blows along the shore, and it's awaiting a new generation of entrepreneurs to harness its potential – this time to produce electricity.
North Carolina has a significant untapped source of energy, said Bob Leker, renewables program manager for the State Energy Office. But so far, there have been few commercial-scale proposals to tap.
“The U.S. Department of Energy is very interested in North Carolina,” Leker said in remarks this week to the N.C. Coastal Resources Advisory Council, a group that gives input to the state's coastal policymakers. “We have a significant resource by virtue of the miles of coastline and relatively shallow sound.”
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Green energy is getting lots of attention these days. As efforts mount nationally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, states are seeking renewable sources of energy in the wind and sun that spew less pollution than coal-burning power plants.
Billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens is pushing a plan to increase the nation's share of electricity produced by wind to 20 percent within 10 years.
A year ago, N.C. leaders passed a law requiring utilities to meet 12.5 percent of energy demand by 2021 with cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar power.
“There is increasing interest with all renewables, wind included,” Leker said. “We're getting more interest from utilities and wind developers.”
Nine wind projects are proposed off the coasts of Atlantic states, but none is now planned in North Carolina.
During the recent legislative session, lawmakers directed a study of the permitting of commercial-scale wind farms to ensure they're built in an orderly manner that doesn't harm the environment.
One small commercial wind project is proposed in Carteret County. Raleigh entrepreneurs Nelson and Dianna Paul have cleared the first hurdle in seeking to build the state's largest wind power plant in the coastal community of Bettie.
The Pauls propose three wind turbines that would generate 4.5 megawatts of electricity – enough to provide power for about 900 homes when the wind blows.
In April, the state Utilities Commission approved the project on the condition that the Federal Aviation Administration and Carteret County also approve it.
The Pauls are waiting to see what kind of regulations the county adopts for siting wind turbines to determine whether their project remains viable.
“We're waiting to see what Carteret County is going to do,” Dianna Paul said. “Once they determine what they are going to do, then we'll make an assessment.”