Steady Breeze Brings Jobs to North Carolina

Guest Blog | April 23, 2011 | Energy Policy

This blog was co-authored by former SACE staff Katie Stokes & Glenn Mauney.

turbines-web-smallThere’s wind in the North Carolina desert!  OK, it’s not really a desert.  An area in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties in northeastern N.C., locally referred to as ‘the Desert’, may soon be home to N.C.’s first wind farm.  Iberdrola Renewables recently announced they were seeking permits to construct a 300 MW wind farm they have named the Desert Wind Power Project.  Desert Wind has been in the works for some time; Iberdrola had meteorological towers at the site for over a year to measure the wind resource.

Jennifer Banks, Wind Energy Project Coordinator at the North Carolina Solar Center said several wind energy developers have contacted her recently showing interest in N.C. for new projects.  She adds,

“The Solar Center is excited to see this project in Coastal North Carolina.  Hopefully it will be the first of many investments in wind, an abundant and clean energy resource that is available here in North Carolina.”

The 300 MW Desert Wind project will bring economic relief to an area in need of it.  The overall value is projected at $600 million, with approximately $135 million being invested locally.  Using the Jobs and Economic Development Index, an economic model developed by the National Renewable Energy Lab, the wind farm may generate over $3 million annually for the area in collected property taxes.  While the project could eventually need 20 full-time employees, 400 workers are needed for the roughly 18 months of construction.  These new jobs will greatly benefit both counties, which currently have unemployment levels around 10%.  Beyond the well-paying, permanent jobs, there is great benefit to the land owners.  Most of the area where the turbines are to be installed is farm land.  Those farmers now have a second, year-round crop to harvest.  Payments to the various landowners could come to approximately $1 million per year.  With the wind farm using only 2-5% of the land, farmers can continue crop production while reaping the financial benefits of the wind farm.

Looking ahead, a combination of advances in generation technology and wind resource measurement are making sound projects economically possible where several years ago those sites may have been passed by.  Pramod Jain, PhD, President of Innovative Wind Energy and author of Wind Energy Engineering comments,

“Wind turbine manufacturers have started to focus on innovations that allow the turbines to produce more energy in low and medium wind regimes: larger rotors, larger generators and direct drive technology.  Most of the best wind sites, the proverbial low hanging fruit, are taken or have severe constraints like transmission access, significant environmental impact or rugged terrain.  These factors have driven developers to low and medium wind resource sites.  The holy grail for manufacturers has been to significantly increase capacity factors in areas with medium wind speeds in the range of 6.5 to 7 meters per second.”

Dr. Jain points out that newer turbines with 100-plus meter rotor diameter, a 25-30% increase over an 80 meter rotor, can theoretically yield up to 60% more energy, however, in practice, the increase is not quite as dramatic.

Experience has proven that necessity is the mother of invention.  North Carolina and the world, need both jobs and clean energy.  That need is driving wind turbine manufacturers and developers to innovate, improving and increasing the number of possible projects.  These projects, made more economically attractive because of the increased efficiencies, are bringing what is desperately needed: real jobs and investment to North Carolina.  Bring it on!

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