The flag of North Carolina flutters in the wind.
The flag of North Carolina flutters in the wind. Credit: Ken Lund / Flickr / Creative Commons
Katharine Kollins is the president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition.

The pandemic’s impact on North Carolina’s economy is shining a light on the state’s need to pursue new and diverse industries that not only expand existing businesses but also create new investment opportunities. Offshore wind and the robust manufacturing supply chain required to support the wind industry meets that need.

A new poll confirms North Carolinians understand that dynamic and believe offshore wind and other clean energy technologies should be prioritized as part of our state’s energy policy.

North Carolina is off to a running start, thanks to the state’s existing land-based wind manufacturing supply chain, strong port infrastructure, and substantial wind resource off the coast. North Carolina is already home to a significant portion of the land-based wind supply chain, with over 55 companies located in the Tarheel state. North Carolina has the largest manufacturing workforce in the Southeast — a strong foundation for the industry to build upon.

These factors position us well to be a leader in the offshore wind industry, creating opportunities to further boost the state’s economy and create more new jobs — but we’ll have to proactively engage in efforts to bring industry here if we want the jobs and economic investment to materialize.

To make that happen and to truly maximize the supply chain, we’ll need to make commitments to developing offshore wind projects off the North Carolina coast. There’s no question it’s a safe bet, confirmed by a study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory indicating that the wind resource potential off the coast of North Carolina is among the highest in the country. That, combined with new polling that shows more than 70% of voters here support embracing that potential, is a winning combination.

The Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind project being developed by Avangrid Renewables estimates nearly $2 billion in total economic impact over the next decade in Virginia and northeast North Carolina. That’s $2 billion in total construction activity, sales, net household earnings, and taxes paid at both the state and local level — all from one offshore wind project. Avangrid needs a buyer and, if North Carolina doesn’t step up, our neighbors in Virginia will surely welcome the jobs and investment there.

Fortunately, North Carolina has already taken some important steps towards understanding the state's potential in contributing to the industry. The state Department of Commerce is currently conducting an infrastructure and supply chain analysis, scheduled to be published within the next month. North Carolina recently entered into a partnership with Virginia and Maryland to collaborate on attracting wind business to the Mid-Atlantic, as well, which should be a powerful alliance in helping bring the economic benefits of the industry to fruition.

Time is of the essence if North Carolina hopes to be a competitive player in this market.

The costs of offshore wind are decreasing rapidly, especially as the country’s supply chain is built out and turbines are produced domestically. According to a 2019 Special Initiative for Offshore Wind report, offshore wind development is slated to create $70 billion in investment by 2030. With technology evolving and state-level development commitments increasing, this opportunity will only continue to grow. States along the east coast are setting aggressive development goals — nearly 30 gigawatts in total so far from Maine to Virginia — to secure the demand necessary to attract the manufacturing supply chain.

North Carolinians care about where their energy comes from and overwhelmingly favor a clean, reliable, and affordable electricity system. Offshore wind will be an integral component of a clean grid, all while providing unparalleled economic investments to North Carolina and the U.S.

This is an energy source that provides benefits well beyond electricity, with the potential to create thousands of new jobs in an industry well-established in Europe and Asia, but just beginning to take hold in the U.S. We need more conversation — and more action — around including offshore wind as part of North Carolina’s energy future to ensure we realize the benefits of this once-in-a-generation industry.