Even if you are interested in wind energy in North Carolina (this blogger), and even if you attempt to feign interest in local policy matters (again, this blogger), the news last week that our governor’s office has requested an extended buffer against offshore wind farms may have flown under your radar. The NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NC DENR) has asked that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management resist any development within 24 nautical miles of our coast. It’s clear that offshore wind energy isn’t a favorite of Pat McCrory.
What’s less clear to me is what the governor’s office hopes to accomplish with this move. Like I stated above, this ‘request’ was just that: a request. The lease blocks in question are ultimately federal waters, and the wind energy development at question along the Atlantic seaboard is a national issue, not just at the whim of our state government. Most new outlets addressing this story are already moving on to the effects of such a decision. It’s true that this buffer results in added costs to wind turbine installation, because it’s more expensive to work in deep water. But, in my opinion, it really doesn’t have much of an impact on the beach view anyway. The study oft cited by the federal government notes that turbines 10 miles from shore would be visible for around half the day every third day on average. At 20 miles from shore, it drops to every fifth day. I don’t consider that to be super different.
In this vein, the secretary of NC DENR expressed concern that offshore wind energy development would threaten the tourism industry at our beaches. But I think this idea is ignorant of a few of the main components of what’s different about North Carolina. It’s a great sentiment-I have a lot of respect for regions where eco-tourism has become an important part of the local economy. Places like New Zealand, Kenya, and Brazil have capitalized on the appeal of their ‘untouched landscape,’ and ultimately, I wish more of world tourism consisted of these elements. North Carolina’s tourism industry, however, is not built on pristine, wild locales or backcountry camping.
Sure, nature is a part of it. But so is the history of Blackbeard and pirating in Beaufort, or the Wright Brothers Museum in Kitty Hawk. North Carolina is just as much about the economic development and technological advancement of our region as it is about the wild horses on Ocracoke Island. Developing wind energy offshore might “ruin the view” of a coastline whose importance has been immortalized as a national seashore. But it also might enhance the history and significance of an area that has borne infamy in many dimensions – not least of which could be leading the charge for offshore wind energy in the United States.