Bush Administration Aims to Tap into
Ocean's Wind Power
Nov 5, 2007 - Lesley Clark and John Murawski -
The News & Observer
A year after a bitter congressional fight over offshore
drilling for oil and gas, the Bush administration
now wants to tap the ocean's winds, waves and currents
as a source for alternative energy.
The plans could mean that within a few years, towering
wind turbines could start spinning off North Carolina's
Outer Banks to harness the same gusts that have tossed
ships out there for centuries.
U.S. Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne said Monday
that the 1.8 billion acres of the federal Outer Continental
Shelf could become "a new frontier" for the nation's
His remarks come a year after Congress argued over
whether to open up much of the nation's federal waters
to drilling for oil or gas. Those proposals, ultimately
shot down, brought strong opposition from environmental
groups and some state governments.
But now the administration has found some common
ground with environmental groups in the push for wind-
and water-generated energy.
"We wouldn't give blanket approval for these things,
but the bar would have to be high for us to reject
it," said Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the Sierra
Club in Washington. "There's a lot of wind offshore.
Finding ways to tap that would be excellent." The
federal government is entertaining bids beginning
this week for companies to put testing equipment,
such as meteorological towers, in the ocean waters
to gather data on wind, wave or current energy.
Kempthorne said the agency is farthest along in understanding
how to capture wind energy, which also has the greatest
potential impact on North Carolina.
The U.S Department of Interior, which governs federal
lands, figures 70 percent of the ocean's wind power
could be found in the Mid-Atlantic states in waters
less than 60 meters deep.
From Delaware to North Carolina, experts think they
can harness enough of the south and southwesterly
prevailing winds to supply energy for 50 million homes.
The sight of rows of spinning wind turbines has become
a common one in flat, blustery locales such as Oklahoma
and parts of California. If the Interior's plan comes
to fruition, such a sight could be seen offshore as
"Wind is a lot steadier and stronger offshore,"
Dorner said. "You can put some really massive turbines
Federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf begin
at three miles offshore and run to 200 nautical miles,
and placement of wind turbines would depend on a variety
of factors, including wind resources and environmental
National park and historical sites would be off-limits,
as would some fisheries.
It's unclear, though, how much say individual states
would have on the placement of offshore energy facilities
in federal waters.
Chris Canfield, executive director of Audubon North
Carolina, said the group supports wind energy but
would have to review each offshore commercial facility
on a site-by-site basis.
The state's coastline is a popular track for migratory
birds, he said, and several endangered species feed
in the waters off Cape Hatteras.
Still, he said, the average wind turbine only kills
two or three birds a year. A more possible scenario,
he said, might occur if residents worried about the
sight of turbines use bird strikes as the reason for
"Overall, I think it's going to be people reacting
to what it looks like to have wind turbines, and they'll
try to use birds to make their case," Canfield said.
Other parts of the country have other potential.
Farther south, the agency says most of the potential
for sub-surface current energy can be found in the
Gulf Stream flowing northward off Florida's east coast.
There, capturing just one-thousandth of the Gulf Stream's
energy could supply a third of the Sunshine State's
energy, Kempthorne said.
And wave energy has the most potential on the Pacific
Coast, between Washington and northern California,
said Interior officials Monday.
If just 15 percent of the nation's wave energy were
harvested, Kempthorne said, 22 million homes could
be supplied with energy.
Many local utilities already have been searching
for alternative energy sources.
In North Carolina, Progress Energy and Duke Energy
are preparing to tap renewables to make electricity,
based on a new state law requiring electric utilities
in the state to meet growing customer demand with
electricity generated by alternative fuel sources.
Progress last week said it has started shopping around
for renewable electricity generated by independent
The Raleigh-based electric utility is asking for
proposals from suppliers of solar photovoltaic, solar
thermal, wind, hydropower, geothermal, landfill methane
gas, ocean current, hydrogen and wave energy, and
biomass such as animal waste and switchgrass. However,
the company is emphasizing solar power, poultry litter
and swine waste because the new state law specifically
requires those three renewable resources.
(McClatchy Newspapers correspondents Lesley Clark
and John Murawski contributed to this report.) ___