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First in Flight, First in Wind: Bringing Sustainable Energy Options to North Carolina

November 28, 2012

“Can we replicate the story of the Wright Brothers?” Wake Forest professor of Law Alan Palmiter posed this question as he opened a symposium on wind energy at Wake Forest University on November 15th.  Over one hundred years ago, the Wright brothers chose the breezy coast of North Carolina to test their flight inventions, and now many groups are suggesting that same wind be used for the production of energy.

Energy demand is increasing in the United States, particularly in the Southeast, and non-renewable fossil fuels make up the vast majority of what we consume.  While coal is responsible for forty percent of the energy portfolio in the United States, wind power accounts for only 2.9 percent.

Wake Forest’s Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (CEES) and the Sierra Club of North Carolina partnered up to educate the public on the potential of wind energy at First in Flight, First in Wind, a lecture and panel discussion in Kulynych Auditorium at the Byrum Welcome Center at Wake Forest University.

The event offered mini-lectures by Dr. John Bane, Professor of Marine Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill, Brian O’Hara, President of the Southeast Coastal Wind Coalition, Jen Banks, Wind Energy Project Coordinator at the NC Solar Center, and Craig Poff, Director of Business Development at Iberdrola Renewables. April Montgomery, North Carolina representative for Invenergy Services, joined the subsequent panel discussion. Audio of the presentations and links to the accompanying presentations are available below.

North Carolina has some of the greatest offshore wind potential on the East Coast because of the nearby Gulf Stream.  “The magical ingredient here is the oceanic Gulf Stream,” according to Dr. John Bane. “It’s a 60 mile wide band of warm water flowing swiftly past the coast…the heating of the Gulf Stream causes the slower air to rise and the faster air to be brought down to turbine level.”

Considerations for potential locations of offshore wind farms include the closeness of the Gulf Stream to the shore, and have also been selected because they afford the least amount of impact on wildlife and the fewest number of historical hurricane landfalls.  The key is to find the locations with maximum wind potential at minimum cost.   Fortunately, waters just off the North Carolina coast are ideal locations.

According to Brian O’Hara, the largest hurdle offshore wind faces is start-up cost and competition with already low electricity costs.  While there is an initial cost of development, offshore wind will eventually be cost competitive, as exampled by onshore wind, which are already cost competitive with conventional fossil fuels and natural gas.  During the panel discussion, O’Hara added that a steady stream of larger scale projects and predicable development patterns will help drive down costs.

The end of this year will see the end of a federal tax rebate for wind energy, which will likely create another hurdle for the industry. April Montgomery urged community involvement and recommends contacting government representatives to let them know these are important projects both for the benefit of North Carolina’s communities and environment. More information on offshore wind farms can be found at www.offshorewindnc.org

Introduction & Alan Palmiter, Wake Forest Professor of Law                                                              Power Point                Audio

Jen Banks, NC Solar Center                                                                                                                    Power Point                Audio

John Bane, Prof. of Marine Science, UNC – Chapel Hill                                                                   Power Point                Audio

Brian O’Hara, Southeast Coastal Wind Coalition                                                                                Power Point                Audio

Craig Poff, Iberdrola Renewables                                                                                                          Power Point                Audio

Panel discussion with presenters and April Mongomery, Invenergy Services                           Moderated by Henry Campen                                                                                                                Audio