FOR THE PEOPLE
As my family drove onto Cape Cod this summer, my 6-year-old son
spotted a large white object out
his window. It was super tall
and had three futuristic blades
spinning slowly. He spotted
another. Then another.
“What are those?” he gasped.
“Those,” I said, “are wind
“Wow. What do they do?”
“They take wind and create
energy. You know, electricity
to turn on lights and stuff in our
“Is our house hooked up to
“Do we have wind turbines
where we live?”
I paused. “That’s a good
In 2009, then-Gov. Beverly
Perdue commissioned a report
to assess the wind power poten-
tial in eastern North Carolina.
For it, Harvey Seim, professor
of marine sciences at UNC, focused on
wind speeds. His team used historical mea-
surements of surface winds from across
eastern North Carolina and coastal waters
to determine that huge swaths of land and
sea were primed for wind development.
Seim’s UNC marine sciences colleague
Charles “Pete” Peterson studied the ecology of these areas and was surprised that, in
many of them, wind development would
not affect wildlife, such as migratory birds
and bats, nor would turbine construction
In the end, Seim and Peterson and
others helped produce a 378-page report
showing that North Carolina had the best
wind power potential on the Eastern Sea-
board, shy of perhaps only Massachusetts.
North Carolina was poised to become the
first state in the country to install wind tur-
bines off the coast. Many states have them
In 2010, the federal government
established a process to identify offshore
blocks for lease for wind power. The feds
requested data from a state-based task force
to help determine the best areas for these
blocks. Seim and Peterson were on it.
“We identified five areas of the ocean
for wind power,” Seim said. “One off
Kitty Hawk, large areas in Raleigh Bay
and Onslow Bay, and two areas off
But then the Navy said it needed
Onslow Bay — the broad swath of the
ocean between Cape Lookout and Cape
Fear — for training activities.
“Decisions on Raleigh Bay and Onslow
Bay were tabled years ago and never
brought back up for discussion,” Seim
said. “Onslow Bay was clearly the most
desirable area for wind power — best
winds, least conflicts, best connection
potential to existing power grids — and it
was instantly taken off the table. That was
the sweet spot.”
Not allowing these areas to produce
wind power would substantially decrease
the energy potential off the N.C. coast.
When Pat McCrory became governor,
the state stopped pursuing wind power.
Key members of the N.C. Department of
Environmental Quality were laid off. The
task force didn’t meet for three years. This
would prove costly to the cause of wind
But Seim’s and Peterson’s research on
wind potential and ecological conflicts
never stopped. “That first report was quick
Offshore Development Stalls,
But Wind Power Research Goes On
Three wind turbines from the Deepwater Wind project off Block Island, R.I., in August 2016. UNC research
shows that North Carolina has nearly the highest wind power potential on the Eastern Seaboard.