UNC and Duke Energy sign contract to develop coastal wind pilot project

Wind Pilot Project

In a pilot project designed to harness the power of the ocean breezes along North Carolina’s coast, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke Energy announced they have signed a contract to place up to three demonstration wind turbines in the Pamlico Sound.

The pilot project builds on a nine-month study completed in June 2009 by UNC for the North Carolina General Assembly which concluded that North Carolina is well-positioned to develop utility-scale wind energy production.

These demonstration turbines may be the first turbines placed in water in the United States, providing UNC with a valuable opportunity for ongoing research about issues raised in its coastal wind study. Duke Energy will pay for the turbines and their installation. UNC will continue its research throughout the project.

The pilot turbine installation will facilitate utility-scale wind energy development by enabling studies to optimize measuring and predicting the wind resource, quantifying ecological impacts, and demonstrating turbine performance in tropical storm conditions.

In September, government representatives along with representatives from UNC and Duke Energy, held a meeting on the Outer Banks to get community feedback on the pilot project. Over the coming weeks and months, UNC and Duke Energy will continue to seek out community comments and answer questions about the project.

“This project is the critical step that will determine the future of wind power off the Outer Banks,” North Carolina Senator Marc Basnight said. “It will allow for community feedback and collaboration, and it will be a very positive information-finding effort. People will be able to view the turbines working and we will gain a greater understanding of how to use wind as a renewable energy source. What we learn from this project will chart the future of offshore wind energy for our state.”

Places with the best conditions for producing constant, strong winds include rounded hilltops, mountain gaps, open plains, shorelines and over the ocean. To generate power from these winds, a wind turbine uses specially-shaped blades that connect to a drive shaft that then turns an electric generator to produce electricity.

Although wind power produced only about 1.5 percent of the world’s electricity in 2008, its usage doubled between 2005 and 2008, according to a report by the non-profit World Wind Energy Association.

Duke Energy has 634 megawatts (MW) of land-based wind energy in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming, another 99 MW under construction and an additional 251 MW of wind projects scheduled to begin operation in 2010.