Two companies will split a roughly 170-square-mile zone off the North Carolina coast to develop a new offshore wind farm.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Wednesday awarded the leases to Duke Energy and TotalEnergies for an area off Brunswick County, in the southeast corner of North Carolina.

What You Need To Know

  • Duke Energy and TotalEnergies won new federal leases to develop offshore wind farms off southeastern North Carolina

  • The new leases cover about 170 square miles starting about 20 miles east of Bald Head Island, near the South Carolina border

  • The companies still have years left of work to do on planning and getting approval from state and federal regulators

  • It could take a decade or longer for the wind farms to be operational, but they have the potential to produce more energy than a nuclear power plant

“If fully developed, the leases could result in about 1.3 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, enough to power about 500,000 homes,” BOEM said in a statement.

But Duke Energy has bigger goals. The company said it’s half of the offshore zone off Wilmington, “could support up to 1.6 gigawatts of potential offshore wind energy, enough to power nearly 375,000 homes.”

Katherine Kollins, with the Southeast Wind Coalition, points to the horizon in images created to show what offshore wind turbines will look like from the beach during a community information session in Southport earlier this year. (Photo: Charles Duncan)

The lease area starts about 20 miles east of Bald Head Island. Once built, the turbines would be barely visible over the horizon from some Brunswick County beaches, according to models produced by the Southeast Wind Coalition.

The average nuclear power plant in the United States generates about 1 gigawatt of energy each year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Awarding the new provisional leases is one more step in a decades-long process to develop offshore wind farms. If everything lines up with federal and state regulators and the energy companies, it could be a decade or longer before the wind farms are operating off the southern end of North Carolina’s coast.

Avengrid Renewables is already working to develop an offshore wind farm off the Outer Banks, near the border with Virginia. The site is about 27 miles east of Corolla and could generate 2,500 megawatts of power, according to the company.

Avengrid hopes to begin construction off the Outer Banks, called Kitty Hawk Offshore, by 2026. The power from the Kitty Hawk project will likely go to Dominion Energy in Virginia.

Last year North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper set a target for the state to generate 2.8 gigawatts of electricity from offshore wind by 2030 and 8 gigawatts by 2040.

The new offshore wind lease areas are off the southern end of the North Carolina coast. (Image courtesy BOEM)

Offshore wind could have an outsized impact on North Carolina’s economy. Most of the parts for offshore wind are currently built overseas, leaving big opportunities for states on the East Coast to attract companies to build the parts and assemble the massive offshore wind turbines.  

The offshore wind industry is expected to invest $140 billion along the East Coast over the next 15 years and North Carolina leaders are working to attract that new business.

“We are incredibly excited to work with Total Energies Renewables USA  and Duke Energy Renewables Wind to bring offshore wind development to the Carolinas. The announcement of two provisional lease winners increases the opportunity for economic development to support the offshore wind industry in North Carolina and across the East Coast.” said Katharine Kollins, president of the Southeast Wind Coalition.

“Investments from two developers means increased supply chain investment and recruitment, workforce development and thousands of good-paying jobs, and infrastructure development that will support other North Carolina industries,” Collins said.

The governor set a goal for North Carolina utilities to cut carbon emissions this decade and get to net-zero emissions by 2050.

“Securing this lease creates optionality for future offshore wind if the North Carolina Utilities Commission determines it’s part of the least cost path to achieve 70% carbon reduction by 2030 and net-zero by 2050,” said Stephen De May, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president.

Duke is due to submit a plan to the North Carolina Utilities Commission Monday outlining its plan to reduce carbon emissions.

“Wind energy is one of a number of carbon-free technologies Duke Energy is evaluating to reduce carbon emissions on its system,” the company said.

The two winning bids total $315 million, showing much higher interest in developing offshore wind farms. Avengrid paid just $9 million when it leased the Kitty Hawk site in 2017.

“This auction puts real dollars on the table to support economic growth from offshore wind energy development – including the jobs that come with it,” said BOEM Director Amanda Lefton.

“The new bidding credit in the Carolina Long Bay auction will result in tangible investments for workforce training and businesses in the United States, to ultimately create jobs in the U.S. across the industries needed to support achieving our offshore wind goals,” she said.