A New Jersey-based energy company has dropped its interest in erecting wind turbines off the coast of Southeastern North Carolina, handing local opponents a major victory.
Fishermen’s Energy LLC, an Atlantic City firm that had expressed interest in developing wind farms off the Brunswick County coast, has “formally withdrawn that notice,” said Paul Gallagher Sr., corporate secretary for the firm.
The notice of withdrawal came in a letter dated July 8, 2016, to James Bennett, a program manager at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in Washington, a copy of which was obtained by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.
BOEM’s webpage for North Carolina has no entry reflecting Fishermen’s Energy’s withdrawal, and the agency’s last task force posting is of a conference call that occurred several weeks prior to the firm’s pullout.
Although Fishermen’s Energy told BOEM of its decision not to proceed off Brunswick County a year and a half ago, some stakeholders were still in the dark as of early December.
“I have received no information” concerning relative developer interest or leases, said Robert Forrester, the mayor of Sunset Beach, one of several communities where some residents are concerned about the visual impact of wind turbines.
“Not much if anything,” responded Tom Myers, president of the Holden Beach Property Owners Association that opposes offshore wind, when asked what he’s heard about developer interest. “It’s my understanding that it’s not moving fast, but it’s still there.”
Representatives of Oak Island, Ocean Isle Beach and Bald Head Island, all of which have gone on record with concerns about offshore wind, did not respond to requests for comment.
The company’s letter cites both environmental and economic reasons for its decision.
In January 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expanded the “critical habitat” for the North Atlantic right whale to include all of the Wilmington West wind zone, a small portion of Wilmington East and other waters down to Florida to protect whale calving.
“In addition to impacting wind farm design and layout, the habitat restrictions will dramatically [affect] operations both during construction and for years of operations,” the letter from Gallagher said.
The firm also cited the market cost of development as a reason for not moving ahead.
“It does not make economic sense for us to land bank so much acreage for such a long period at the price levels and on the performance schedules that BOEM presently requires,” federal officials were told.
Fishermen’s Energy is now at a crossroads, courting potential buyers while it waits to see how fast New Jersey’s new governor, Phil Murphy, resurrects a dead-in-the-water 2010 blueprint for wind power off Atlantic City.
“We still have a fully permitted, ready-to-build demonstration project,” Gallagher said in a telephone interview.
Fishermen’s Energy’s withdrawal from North Carolina has left the Wilmington East and Wilmington West wind zones up for grabs. But opposition from many coastal residents has already made one alternative developer wary.
“We’re not interested in poking sleeping bears,” said Paul Rich, director of project management for US Wind, which is moving ahead with plans for turbines off the coast of Maryland and also continues to express interest in building off South Carolina’s Grand Strand.
With the implosion of plans for additional nuclear power in The Palmetto State, “Our interest in South Carolina has never been more enthusiastic,” Rich said.
Adam Forrer, manager of the Atlantic Region for the Southeastern Wind Coalition, believes the critical mass of wind power infrastructure emerging from Maryland to Massachusetts will eventually spark greater developer interest in the Southeast.
“They will see the economic development benefits of offshore wind,” he said. “They will get the benefit of economies of scale and the familiarity of the process.”