NC Offshore Wind Is No Flight of Fancy

Guest Blog | May 13, 2011 | Energy Policy

“First in Flight.” North Carolina will forever be branded by this motto because of that fortuitous flight in 1901 when the Wright Brothers made history and tamed the skies. The coastal winds that lifted the Kitty Hawk Flyer off the ground and launched the aviation revolution at the start of the 20th century are the same that can launch North Carolina’s offshore wind industry into a 21st Century clean energy revolution.

Modern wind turbines are large, but can power up to 1,000 homes
Modern wind turbines are large, but can power up to 1,000 homes

Perhaps by coincidence, this clean energy revolution could be linked even further with the aviation theme. On April 20th, North Carolina state Senator Fletcher L. Hartsell (Republican – Cabarrus, Iredell counties) introduced Senate Bill 747 – the Offshore Wind Jobs and Economic Development Act – which shares a number with Boeing’s 747, one of the world’s most recognizable aircrafts. North Carolina’s offshore wind resources are some of the best in North America and SB 747 would help up to 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy capacity takeoff by 2027. For comparison, 2,500 megawatts is just shy of the global offshore wind capacity currently installed and is similar in capacity to two large nuclear power plants.

The similarities between SB 747, offshore wind, the First in Flight state, wind energy and the aviation industry don’t stop there. For example, as the aviation industry has progressed from bi-wing planes to super-sonic jets, wind turbines have also advanced significantly – from the early windmills used to grind grain to an offshore wind turbine that can generate enough electricity for more than 1,000 homes. And just as a Boeing 747 in flight is difficult to see, most offshore wind turbines are barely visible to viewers on the coast.

The wind industry and the aviation industry even share some technological similarities:  wind turbine blades are essentially longer versions of airplane wings. The airfoil technology gets adapted to achieve the desired outcome – for providing maximum lift for flight, or for slipping through the air with minimal effort to provide electricity.

Wind turbines and airplanes both use airfoils to create lift.
Wind turbines and airplanes both use airfoils to create lift.

Building upon the theme further, while North Carolina wasn’t the birthplace of aviation (thanks to Ohio for making this blog post work), nor will it be the birthplace for offshore wind – that honor is held by Denmark. In 1991, that country erected the Vindeby offshore wind farm:  eleven offshore wind turbines with a cumulative capacity of just five megawatts – mere seashells compared to today’s projects that can reach gigawatt-scale (1,000 megawatts).

Even though North Carolina won’t be the birthplace for offshore wind, it has the potential to be the best at it. The Offshore Wind Jobs and Economic Development Act (SB 747) and other policies promoting offshore wind research, development and installation would go a long way in making sure the offshore wind industry doesn’t stall and that it really spreads its wings in North Carolina. And that’s no flight of fancy.

If you live in North Carolina, visit our Action Alert page and write a letter to your State Senator requesting they co-sponsor SB 747.

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