KITTY HAWK, N.C. — The federal government plans to lease nearly 200 square miles of ocean off the Outer Banks for a commercial wind farm.The Department of the Interior announced the March auction on Tuesday and named nine companies it deems qualified to bid on the wind energy project.
"This is a significant milestone for North Carolina and our country as we continue to make progress on diversifying our nation’s energy portfolio," Walter Cruickshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said in a statement.
The 122,405 acres to be sold are 27.6 to 29.5 miles off the coast of Kitty Hawk, and federal officials say the wedge-shaped area is away from shipping routes, military training zones and sensitive environmental ecosystems.
Kitty Hawk leaders recently passed a resolution opposing any wind farm closer than 20 miles off the coast, but Mayor Gary Perry said Wednesday that the location of the proposed wind farm means residents and tourists wouldn't know 500-foot-tall wind turbines were out on the ocean.
"That puts that far enough offshore that we will only see it on a very, very clear day, under good atmospherics, those sorts of things," Perry said.
A survey released last year by North Carolina State University found that 54 percent of respondents wouldn't rent a vacation home on the Outer Banks if wind turbines were visible from the shore. "I hate to say it, but that's a little bit of ignorance on their part," Perry said. "You get them 20, 25 miles offshore, you're not going to see them. They're not going to impact their beachgoing."
Locals say concerns about marred views are overblown."We see fishing boats out there all the time," said Jane Loesch, a bartender in Kitty Hawk. "Right now, they're out there shrimping."
Although it could take five to 10 years before the wind farm is operational, Loesch said she thinks it will produce more than electricity. "I think that it could generate jobs here," she said. Dare County resident Jack Light said he isn't even sure the project will fly."I don't think it'll happen, just like I don't think they'll ever drill (for oil or natural gas) off the Eastern Seaboard," Light said.
Right now, the U.S. has one offshore wind farm in operation – a five-turbine site off the coast of Rhode Island.
The government plans to start the bidding for the North Carolina site at about $245,000, but the lease is expected to fetch millions of dollars.
[Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that a NCSU survey found 54 percent of respondents wouldn't rent a home on the Outer Banks whether or not turbines were visible. The survey actually found that 54 percent of respondents wouldn't rent a house only if the turbines were visible from shore.]