SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) — The Carolinas could power all their energy needs from offshore wind for the foreseeable future. In fact, North and South Carolina have so much potential to capture wind off the coast that they could even abandon all other sources of energy entirely if everything was converted to run on electricity, according to a report from Environment America.

The states are both beginning the process of adding their first offshore wind turbines this month through a federal auction for two leases near the coast on May 11.

The two offshore leases cover about 110,000 acres in the Carolina Long Bay. One site is located 50 miles east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The other location is about 30 miles south of Bald Head Island in North Carolina, according to The Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

Carolina Wind Auction
Two offshore wind leases in the Carolinas will be auctioned on May 11, 2022 (Courtesy: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management).

Sixteen companies have registered to bid on the two offshore leases up for auction. The winner(s) of the auction will be charged an annual rent of $3 per acre for all undeveloped acreage in the lease, encouraging full development of both zones. The minimum bid for each of the two leases is about $2.5 million, according to BOEM.

If fully developed, these two offshore sites in the auction could generate 0.0013 terawatt-hours of electricity, or enough to power about 400,000 homes, according to a report from the BOEM.

The two lease areas in the Carolina Long Bay include similar acreage, distance to shore, and wind resource potential, according to a statement from the department.  The leases represent a small portion of the total offshore area that has the potential for wind farm development.

The bureau has already leased wind power sites off New York’s coast and is planning to add sites off California and Oregon, the Gulf of Maine, the Gulf of Mexico and in the central Atlantic Ocean.

Block Island Wind Farm
Block Island Farm in Rhode Island was the first offshore wind development in the United States. It began operation in 2016 (Courtesy: Dennis Schroeder / NREL CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

The New York wind auction earlier this year set a record as the nation’s highest-grossing competitive offshore energy lease sale in history, including oil and gas lease sales, by bringing in $4.37 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Interior.

The 461,326 acres leased in the New York Bight auction, four times larger than the Carolina Long Bay offering, has the potential to produce 5,601 megawatts of power, enough potential to power almost 2 million homes if fully developed.

Offshore wind development in the United States is still in its early stages. There is currently only one offshore wind farm in the country. The Block Island Farm in Rhode Island began operating in 2016. The five-turbine farm produces 30 megawatts of power or enough energy for about 9,000 homes.

The auctions are part of President Biden’s agenda to harness offshore wind projects to strengthen U.S. energy independence, create good-paying jobs, and lower energy bills for consumers.

“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to supporting a robust clean energy economy, and the upcoming Carolina Long Bay offshore wind energy auction provides yet another excellent opportunity to strengthen the clean energy industry while creating good-paying union jobs,” said U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in a press release. “This is a historic time for domestic offshore wind energy development. We will continue using every tool in our toolbox to tackle the climate crisis, reduce our emissions to reach the President’s bold goals, and advance environmental justice.”

The auctions are the first step of the administration’s goal of preparing the country to deploy 0.11 terawatt-hours (TWh) of wind power by 2050. That amount of energy could supply power for more than 30 million homes each hour.

U.S. Wind Map
Twenty-nine states have the potential to generate offshore wind energy in the continental United States. Alaska was not included in the study but also has potential for offshore wind farms (Courtesy: Environment America Research & Policy Center)

Offshore wind potential in the Carolinas

At least 29 states in the continental United States have the potential to produce wind power. Eleven of those states, including the Carolinas, have the potential to produce significantly more power than they would use in 2050, even if all buildings, transportation, and industry were completely electrified, according to a report by The Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group.

South Carolina used 80.2 Terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity in 2019. North Carolina used 136.4 TWh in that same year. South Carolina has the potential to generate 612.6 TWh of offshore power, and North Carolina has 634.2 TWh of untapped wind power potential, according to the report. Both North and South Carolina have the potential to produce significantly more energy than either state requires for the foreseeable future.

South Carolina Wind Potential
South Carolina’s coast has the potential to meet the state’s power needs for the foreseeable future. (Courtesy: Environment America Research & Policy Center)

The state does not currently have any utility-scale wind farms in its electric grid. The offshore wind turbines for the Carolina Long Bay auction will be the first utility-scale (1 MW or greater) farm in the state. South Carolina does not have any economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves, and its primary energy production comes from its nuclear power plants. There are four operating nuclear power plants in the state, according to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Electric Grid Mix in South Carolina
Energy sources in South Carolina’s electric grid (Courtesy: Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy)

An increasing amount of South Carolina’s renewable electricity generation comes from solar energy. Solar power accounted for about 2% of the state’s total net generation in 2020. Solar electricity generation nearly tripled in the state since 2018.

“All of the state’s new utility-scale generating capacity in 2020 and 2021—about 470 megawatts—is powered by solar energy,” according to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

North Carolina embraces wind power

In 2021, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order that aims to produce 2.8 gigawatts of wind power by 2030; and 8 gigawatts by 2040, which would power about 2.3 million homes. The expansion of wind power in North Carolina is part of the state’s clean energy plan to reduce carbon emissions with renewable energy.

North Carolina Wind Potential
North Carolina Wind Potential (Courtesy: Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group).

In addition to creating economic benefits across North Carolina, the development will help achieve the North Carolina Clean Energy Plan goal of a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2050, according to the state’s energy plan.

North Carolina currently has one utility-scale wind energy source, the Amazon Wind Farm US East near Elizabeth City. The land-based coastal wind farm began producing around 200 megawatts in 2017 or enough energy for about 60,000 homes. The wind farm produces energy for the electrical grid that also powers Amazon’s AWS Cloud data centers. The Amazon Wind Farm is part of the company’s efforts to replace its carbon emissions with renewable energy. The farm uses about 100 land-based wind turbines, each covering about an acre. Amazon has investments in several wind farms throughout the world. The company added its first offshore wind investment last year in the Netherlands.

North Carolina Wind Resource Map
North Carolina wind resource map (Courtesy: U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory).

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management defined three areas offshore in North Carolina, covering 307,590 acres for potential commercial wind energy development. They are Kitty Hawk Wind Energy Areas (122,405 acres), the Wilmington West Wind Energy Areas (51,595 acres), and the Wilmington East Wind Energy Areas (133,590 acres).

Similar to South Carolina, North Carolina is among the nation’s top five producers of electricity from nuclear power. There are four nuclear power plants in the state.

Over the past decade, the contribution of natural gas energy to the state’s electric grid has increased as utility companies have added natural gas-fired power plants.

Natural gas-fired power generation exceeded coal-fired generation for the first time in 2016. Before 2012, coal-fired power plants provided more than half of the electricity generated in North Carolina, but 35 coal-fired units have been retired since 2010. Since then, 35 natural gas-fired units with about 5,300 megawatts of capacity were added, according to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

North Carolina Energy Grid (Courtesy: Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy).

“Renewable energy sources produced about 16% of the total electricity generated in North Carolina. The amount of electricity generated from solar energy increased rapidly in recent years. In 2020, solar power provided about 7% of the state’s total generation and about 44% of its renewable electricity. North Carolina ranked fourth in the nation, after California, Texas, and Arizona, in total solar power generation,” according to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

U.S. offshore wind energy potential

Offshore wind in the United States has the potential to produce more than 7,200 terawatt-hours of electricity per year, almost two times the amount of electricity the U.S. consumed in 2019, and about 90% of the amount of electricity the nation would consume in 2050, according to a report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group.

US offshore wind potential
U.S. offshore wind energy potential (Courtesy: Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group).

Overall, the Atlantic Coast has the potential to produce almost 4,600 TWh of electricity each year, more than four times as much power as those states used in 2019, and almost twice as much as they would use in 2050 if the country underwent maximal electrification, based on estimates from the Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group.

Atlantic Wind Energy Potential
Atlantic Wind Energy Potential (Courtesy: Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group).

Offshore wind has the potential to develop previously unused coastal spaces. Deploying offshore wind strategically reduces environmental impacts and is a crucial step in the path to 100% renewable energy for the United States, according to The U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office.

Average wind speeds in U.S. coastal regions
Average wind speeds in U.S. coastal regions and a height of 100m (Courtesy: National Renewable Energy Laboratory).

A current obstacle to expanding U.S. wind-power resources beyond shallow coastal regions is the depth of the ocean. More than 58% of potential U.S. offshore wind resources are in areas so deep that conventional wind turbine foundations fixed to the seabed are not practical.

The technology to capture more offshore wind

To harness wind energy from the deep ocean, companies are developing innovative floating offshore wind platforms for use in deep waters, according to the department of energy.

Offshore Floating Turbines
Chains anchor floating wind turbines to the seafloor up to a half-mile deep (Courtesy: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory).

Floating turbines use buoyant hulls and steel structures that float or ride under the surface of the water and can operate at depths approaching 3,000 feet using chains to attach to the seafloor.

Commercial floating wind turbines are in the early phases of development. As of 2022, there are three operational floating wind farms. They include the 30-megawatt Hywind Scotland with five floating turbines; Portugal’s WindFloat Atlantic with three floating turbines that produce 25-megawatts; and Kincardine wind farm in Scotland, with five floating turbines producing 50 megawatts.

Wind energy production has increased as the offshore turbines have grown higher and rotor diameters have increased. The process of building offshore farms is now becoming economically efficient. For example, in 2010, the largest turbine commercially available reached about 330 feet and could produce 3 megawatts of energy. Siemens Gamesa, the largest turbine supplier in the world, has announced a 15-megawatt turbine with a 730-foot diameter rotor, which will be available in 2024.

Evolution of Wind Turbines
Evolution of Wind Turbines (Courtesy: International Energy Agency).

The continental shelf’s shallow depths extend about 100 miles from the U.S. Atlantic Coast. Depths in this submerged plateau range typically from 50 to 600 feet, well within the range of current offshore turbines that can be attached to the seafloor. Beyond the continental shelf dropoff into deeper coastal waters, many locations will require floating turbines.

Today, the U.S. gets about 11.5% of its electricity from wind, solar and geothermal sources, up from about 0.6 percent two decades ago, according to a report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group.

U.S. Wind Turbine Database (Courtesy: The United States Geological Survey).

Overall, there are currently 71,666 wind turbines registered in the United States, producing 134,261 megawatts in 2022, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.