Kitty Hawk WEA shaded area. The outlined area was the original boundaries before shipping lanes, patterns of migratory marine life and concerns about visual pollution reduced the area.

It looks as though North Carolina and the Outer Banks in particular is about to leap into the renewable energy world in a big way . . .  although it’s doubtful that anyone will even notice it when it happens.

Twenty-four miles east of the Outer Banks the Kitty Hawk Wind Energy Area (WEA) is taking the first concrete step to developing the 122,000 acres into a viable energy producer. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) had announced that leases for the area will be sold this summer.

At 24 miles offshore, even the largest wind turbines are just barely visible and can only be seen on the clearest days.

Actual energy production is still a long way off, but the sale of the leases is a very important, real concrete step toward developing the resource. Typically the company who purchased the lease will first build an experimental turbine to confirm the resource, them begin building utility grade turbines.

The experimental and utility turbines must go through a permitting process, and it is difficult to see how any usable power will be generated in less than five years. Nonetheless, this is a huge step.

Initial estimates of the Kitty Hawk Wind Energy Area (WEA) put the potential at 2000 MW. That, however, may be low.  “They (wind turbines) are getting bigger and getting more efficient,” Jim Bennett, Chief of the Office of Renewable Energy Programs for BOEM  Bennett said at a recent energy forum held at Jennette’s Pier.

With the sale of wind energy leases North Carolina joins Massachusetts, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Virginia in beginning the process of producing commercial quantities of offshore wind energy.