Wind power coming to the Southeast – and a new wind farm proves it

A newsbreak from the Associated Press broadcasted the good news across the country: soon North Carolina will have its first commercial-scale wind farm. At 208 megawatts – or enough electricity to power over 60,000 homes – it is far larger than any other wind energy project in the Southeast, where 9 states currently have no wind farms.

The wind farm being built by Iberdrola Renewables is the start of a recent Department of Energy report coming to life. That report included maps (below) showing that advanced technology can allow wind power to spread from 39 states to all 50, unlocking a previously untapped wind resource. As Simon Mahan of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy put it in a recent video about the  “the turbine technology has advanced so greatly over the past few years that the South is now the next frontier for the wind industry. Taller towers reach better wind speeds, and longer blades means more production of power. And by doing that you can actually reduce the cost of energy.”

This first map from the Department of Energy report shows what areas of the United States can achieve a minimum 30 percent net capacity factor (percentage of the maximum rated capacity that a turbine generates year-round), based on 2013 technology and 80 meter hub heights:

FO2 2013 Tech 80m Hub-1

This second map shows that with near-future technology (lower specific power, or the amount of power produced in a given area, and a 110 meter hub height) many more areas can reach this capacity factor:

These maps are making a difference for the “Desert Wind” project in question, which will consist of 104 turbines near Elizabeth City initially, with plans to add 50 or so more turbines for a total of 300 MW. A developer for Iberdrola Renewables told the Associated Press, “In the past this site barely showed up on old (wind) maps. It was a little brown smudge.” He added, “The larger-diameter rotors are really the game-changer here.” The project will use 2 MW turbines with a 93 meter tower (305 feet) and 114 meter rotor diameter (374 feet).

The project demonstrates the economic benefits that will come to the Southeast if more projects are built. Approximately 250 construction jobs will be created over the 18 month construction period with about 10 permanent jobs for on-site operations and maintenance. Iberdrola Renewables will pay about $520,000 the first year, with the amount increasing each year. Iberdrola will also pay more the 60 landowners a total of around $624,000 a year, with that amount increasing each year. Together this will inject more than $1.1 million per year into the local economy, according to the company.

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