Buxton, N.C. — Gov. Beverly Perdue and other state leaders were on hand as researchers gave a presentation introducing an Outer Banks community to the idea of massive offshore wind farms.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill described a new study that found 2,800 square miles of coastal water, including the Pamlico Sound, could generate industrial-scale wind energy.
"I believe North Carolina has the capacity to position herself to be a leader in global energy," Perdue said.
The public meeting in Buxton was packed, with islanders making up about half the crowd.
Researchers said that if all the usable waters are fully developed, offshore wind farms could supply 130 percent of all the power used by North Carolina in 2007. The industry could also create as many as 9,000 local jobs by 2030.
"This is among the best wind resources on the East Coast," said Dr. Harvey Seim, a marine-sciences professor at UNC.
Seim said that a pilot site could be in the Pamlico Sound, about 10 miles west of Avon and northwest of Buxton.
Researchers also discussed the potential impacts of a wind farm on the coast's economy, quality of life and environment.
Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare County, said that he wouldn't fight offshore wind farms, although he is sensitive to concerns that wind turbines could disrupt the tourism industry on which the region depends.
The wind turbines would be 300 to 500 feet tall and could be visible from the coast.
"Change does not come easy to me or to the people of this island," Basnight said.
He wouldn't want to turbines to break up views of the sun rising from the ocean, Basnight said, but global warming could inundate the region if alternative energy sources aren't exploited.
Tourists at the meeting viewed wind energy favorably but said they had the least stake in the question.
"I think wind turbines are probably a great source of energy," visitor Colin Christen said. "It's up to the locals to decide that kind of thing."
Wind generates about 1 percent of the country's electricity but is the fastest-growing type of renewable power.
Along North Carolina's coast, the Outer Banks Brewing Station uses wind to generate about 10 percent of its power. The National Park Service uses wind to power at the Coquina Beach Bathhouse and plans to do the same at Jockey's Ridge State Park.
The UNC study, which was commissioned by the General Assembly, recommended that the state "aggressively pursue" offshore wind farms. Researchers said the state should study what upgrades to the electrical system might be needed, loosen regulations on development in state waters, create incentives for wind power and continue to study coastal winds.
Technology will also need to be improved to strengthen wind turbines against hurricanes. Turbines being built today are designed to withstand up to a Category 3 storm.