A wind farm with up to 45 turbines, planned for Chowan County in northeastern North Carolina, got final approval from state regulators Tuesday.

The wind farm proposal is the first to be approved in North Carolina by the Department of Environmental Quality. State lawmakers passed a law in 2013 allowing for wind farms, but this is the first permit to get final approval.

“This is a big deal,” said Katharine Kollins, head of the Southeast Wind Coalition. She said state regulators had to build a permitting process from scratch and this approval could pave the way for other wind farms in the state.

What You Need To Know

  •  State regulators Tuesday approved the first permit for a wind farm in North Carolina

  •  The wind farm in northeast North Carolina can include up to 45 turbines and power as many as 47,000 homes

  •  Construction could begin this summer, according to Apex Clean Energy

  • The approval of the first wind farm for the state could attract more developers to build wind farms in North Carolina, advocates say

Timbermill Wind, LLC, has been working to get approval for the project for eight years, Kollins said. The company is part of Apex Clean Energy, which has dozens of wind farms and solar projects around the country. 

“Timbermill Wind represents an enormous economic opportunity for Chowan County and the entire region,” Apex senior development manager ​​Jimmy Merrick said in a statement.

The wind farm in Chowan County could generate up to 189 megawatts, according to Apex.

“The 45-turbine project will generate enough clean energy to power more than 47,000 average North Carolina homes, create over 100 jobs during construction, and become the county's single largest taxpayer - providing about $33 million in new local tax revenue over its lifetime,” he said.

The company will still need to get the building permits for the wind turbines, Merrick said.

“Initial construction of the project may begin as soon as this summer and will progress throughout 2024,” he said.

The project will also bring income for farmers and other landowners in Chowan County who will get annual lease payments for having wind turbines on their land, according to Apex.

“These payments will continue over the projected 30-year lifespan of the wind farm, injecting millions of dollars into Chowan County's economy to support local merchants, contractors, and equipment suppliers,” the company said.

Chowan County is a rural area in northeast North Carolina, sitting along the Chowan River and the mouth of the Albemarle Sound. The wind farm will be north of Edenton.

Power from the project will flow into the PJM Energy Market, according to Kollins. That market serves the northeast corner of North Carolina, up into Virginia and points north.


A windy future?

There’s been a lot of talk in North Carolina about wind power as part of the state’s push for a clean energy future. Much of that talk has focused on big offshore wind farms that are in early planning stages for off the coast of the Outer Banks and southeast of Wilmington.

On-shore wind farms could have a big part to play in North Carolina’s clean energy goals too.

In 2021, the General Assembly passed the Energy Solutions for North Carolina Act, setting new clean energy goals for power generation in North Carolina. The law requires a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (based on 2005 levels) by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.

North Carolina’s main energy producer, Duke Energy, submitted several options to the state Utilities Commission for how to reduce those goals. Wind power will likely be part of that mix.

Duke Energy won a lease for an offshore wind farm off Brunswick County, in the southeastern corner of the state. But even if Duke commits to building that massive project, it would still be decades before it could start sending electricity back to the power grid.

Kollins, with the Southeast Wind Coalition, said Duke is looking at potentially adding 600 megawatts of on-shore wind power as part of its clean energy mix in North Carolina.

This first approval by state regulators for a new wind farm could attract more developers with similar projects. For most of the state, Duke Energy would be the only potential buyer for power coming from wind farms, Kollins said, and until now the company had not expressed interest in wind energy.

Another roadblock for wind farms was also the “regulatory uncertainty,” Kollins said. But now that regulators have approved the first on-shore wind farm for North Carolina, companies could be more comfortable spending the money to plan more projects.

As of now, Kollins said, there are no other on-shore wind farm projects in the pipeline for North Carolina. But that will probably change, she said.

“This is a big deal for any future project,” Kollins said, showing that the process works and companies can get approved for new wind farms in North Carolina.