North Carolina offshore wind environmental assessment

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has released an environmental assessment of the impacts of leasing sites off the North Carolina coast for offshore wind projects.  This milestone supports the Obama administration's plan to offer site leases on the outer continental shelf for renewable energy projects.

Since 2012, BOEM has solicited public comment on the prospect of leasing about 307,590 acres off North Carolina for potential offshore wind development.  BOEM has identified three Wind Energy Areas offshore North Carolina:
  • the Kitty Hawk Wind Energy Area (about 122,405 acres), beginning about 24 nautical miles (nm) from shore and extends approximately 25.7 nm in a general southeast direction;
  • the Wilmington West Wind Energy Area (about 51,595 acres), beginning about 10 nm from shore and extends approximately 12.3 nm in an east-west direction at its widest point; and
  • the Wilmington East Wind Energy Area (about 133,590 acres), beginning about 15 nm from Bald Head Island at its closest point and extends approximately 18 nm in the southeast direction at its widest point.

BOEM's map of North Carolina Wind Energy Areas.
On January 22, 2015, BOEM announced the availability of an environmental assessment for public review and comment.  Under the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA, an environmental assessment or EA considers the potential impacts of proposed federal action and analyzes reasonable alternatives to the proposed action.  In this case, the action proposed is BOEM's issuance of commercial wind leases and allowing of site characterization and assessment activities on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf offshore North Carolina.

BOEM's environmental assessment for North Carolina offshore wind leasing provides the framework for potential federal lease auctions for North Carolina offshore wind sites.  The environmental assessment is available for public comment through February 23, 2015. 

Apple makes California solar deal

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Electronics manufacturer Apple has announced an $848 million deal to buy electricity from a solar energy project to be developed in California. Project developer First Solar has described the power purchase agreement as "the largest agreement in the industry to provide clean energy to a commercial end user."

Solar photovoltaic panels in the Utah desert.

Earlier this week, Apple announced the deal with First Solar, Inc., to buy power from First Solar's California Flats Solar Project in Monterey County, California.  Under a 25-year power purchase agreement or PPA, Apple will buy the equivalent of 130 megawatts of the solar project's output. 

First Solar is a vertically-integrated solar company, manufacturing solar photovoltaic panels, developing utility-scale photovoltaic power plants, and providing solar project support services.  First Solar boasts involvement with over 10 gigawatts of installed solar photovoltaic capacity worldwide.  Its resume includes the 550-megawatt Topaz Solar project in California and the 290-megawatt Agua Caliente project, which was once the world's largest operating solar energy project.

First Solar's California Flats Solar Project will occupy a 2,900-acre site on the Jack Ranch in Cholame, California.  Owned by Hearst Corporation, the project site was formerly a dryland farm, and occupies about 3% of the Jack Ranch property.  First Solar expects to begin construction later this year, and to complete the project by the end of 2016.

With a total project capacity of 280 megawatts, Apple's 130-megawatt commitment covers about 46% of the project's output.  The project's remaining 150 megawatts will be sold to utility Pacific Gas & Electric under a separate long-term PPA.

Apple has developed other renewable energy projects, including fuel cells and solar panels at its Maiden, North Carolina data center.  Other high-tech companies have also made significant investments in renewable energy, including Google's commitment of over $1.5 billion to solar and wind projects through power purchase agreements and direct investments.