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NC Gov. Cooper Sets Ambitious Goal For Offshore Wind Energy By 2040

Gov. Roy Cooper has set ambitious goals for wind energy off the North Carolina coast over the next two decades as part of his plan to fight climate change by shifting away from fossil fuels.

The governor on Wednesday signed Executive Order No. 218, which calls for developing 2.8 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 8 gigawatts by 2040. If that happens, the governor said that would power 2.3 million homes by 2040.

The order also calls for a new task force, "NC TOWERS, for "N.C. Taskforce for Offshore Wind Economic Resource Strategies." Its job would be to advise offshore wind projects.

The state currently has no offshore wind farms and only one major land-based wind project — the 208-megawatt wind farm Avangrid Renewables built for Amazon in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties in eastern North Carolina. Avangrid is also studying a potential 200-square-mile wind farm 27 miles off Kitty Hawk, on the Outer Banks.

Wednesday's order is designed to help speed up Cooper's 2018 Executive Order No. 80. That order and the governor's Clean Energy Plan called for developing wind energy as one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and shift the state to what the governor calls a "clean energy economy."

To Cooper, it's not just about energy, but also the broader economy.

“Offshore wind power will help North Carolina create jobs and generate economic development while helping us transition to a clean energy economy,” Cooper said in a statement. “North Carolina’s national leadership in clean energy and manufacturing plus our highly trained workforce create a strong business environment for offshore wind supply chain and manufacturing companies.”

The Clean Energy Plan set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power production by 70% by 2030. It also calls for carbon neutrality by 2050.

Cooper's order follows moves by President Joe Biden's administration to advance wind energy projects. In May, the Department of the Interior approved the first major offshore wind project on the East Coast, Vineyard Wind 1 in Massachusetts. Biden has set a goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacityby 2030.

Wind energy projects could be built by private wind developers or by a public utility. The state's largest utility, Charlotte-based Duke Energy, has set its own goal for expanding renewable energy in its electricity-generating fleet. In its annual sustainability report in March, Duke said it expects to triple the amount of renewable energy it produces by 2030.

In a statement Wednesday, Duke said: "We are committed to a clean, reliable energy transition for the Carolinas which will require a diverse energy mix, including renewable resources, as well as thoughtful analysis and planning to ensure continued reliability for customers. We will continue to collaborate with policymakers to evaluate and advance solutions that yield a balanced energy portfolio and promote the region’s economic growth."

Cooper's order drew widespread praise from environmental groups.

"North Carolina is one of the most promising locations on the East Coast for offshore wind development. Gov. Cooper's targets for offshore wind energy production are a clear message to clean energy investors that North Carolina will support their businesses," said Erin Carey, the N.C. Sierra Club's director of coastal programs. "We have the location, the workforce, and the backing of state and local governments to take advantage of our coastline's great clean energy potential and to help address climate change."

And the seafood industry group NC Catch called wind a preferred alternative to drilling for oil off the coast.

“The fossil fuel industry has been attempting to drill off of North Carolina's pristine beaches for years, which would be disastrous for coastal communities," said Mark Hooper, a commercial fisherman and NC Catch board member. "However, offshore wind has the potential to power our homes and businesses with clean renewable energy. Today’s announcement by Governor Cooper shows we can thoughtfully develop these resources, and we must also protect our fisheries."

Derb Carter of the North Carolina office of the Southern Environmental Law Center applauded the order, but worried that change won't come soon enough.

“Across North Carolina we’re already feeling the consequences of climate change and adopting clean energy will help us avoid the worst climate impacts while gaining economic benefits," Carter said.

"Offshore wind can be a significant part of North Carolina’s transition to clean energy, as long as it is carefully developed to protect sensitive marine and coastal environments, from endangered whales and fisheries to onshore wetlands. However, we need urgent action to reduce carbon pollution today and the multi-year process for wind will not achieve this, even though it is an important part of a long-term clean energy plan for our state," Carter continued.

In October, Cooper and the governors of Maryland and Virginia created a three-state partnership to promote wind energy, called the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Transformative Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Resources (SMART-POWER). The states have pledged to cooperate to develop and expand offshore wind energy and related industries.

Read the text of Cooper's order here.

Copyright WFAE 2021.  For more go to WFAE.org

David Boraks is a WFAE weekend host and a producer for "Charlotte Talks." He's a veteran Charlotte-area journalist who has worked part-time at WFAE since 2007 and for other outlets including DavidsonNews.net and The Charlotte Observer.