Cover Story: Winds of change?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Is it clean energy confusion?  The hometown power company is making green energy with its wind farms practically everywhere except North Carolina.

We can burn coal, burn garbage even burn dead chickens for electricity in North Carolina.  But we don't take advantage of one cleaner, greener resource that never runs out:  Wind.

The state has no wind farms.

Even so, the hometown power company has found a way to turn the wind business into big business.

What's Duke Energy up to?  They have gone to where the wind blows hundreds of miles from here.

And a new report this week finds North Carolina is a prime spot to tap into that same thin air.

Why aren't we?

"We can monitor each of our wind turbines across the country."

In a room in an uptown Charlotte skyscraper operators from Duke Energy literally watch the wind blow - 24 hours a day 7 days a week every day of the year.

In the last three years Duke's built nine wind farms in four states generating enough electricity to power 200,000 homes.

It sells the energy from its 500 wind turbines to local utilities in the states where the farms are.

And from a control room they can see minute-by-minute how much power each one is generating.

Duke's Kit Carson Windpower Project that went live this week in eastern Colorado.

And if one wind turbine goes down they can fix it from here.  "Play with the blade angles. We can turn off turbines. Curtail turbines. Pretty much anything on a tech level we can do from here."

The midwest and mountain west are dynamite for wind says Duke Energy's Greg Efthimiou.  "We go where the wind blows. And the wind really blows lights out between the Dakotas and down to Texas. Some people call it the 'Saudi Arabia of wind.'"

But that same "clear gold" flows freely off the North Carolina coast, according to this report released this week, in greater abundance than perhaps any other place along America's shoreline because of the Gulf stream and the way our state's positioned.

Land-based wind projects relatively-speaking are easy to build.  Offshore is ten times more difficult, which is why there aren't any right now.

  • The permitting process takes years.
  • There are no domestic manufacturers of offshore wind turbines.. they're huge to transport.
  • And right now North Carolina doesn't require utilities to have wind in their tool box.

It will eventually require utilities use solar and burn trees and animal waste as part of their overall renewable energy portfolio.

But not wind.  To top it off there's a prohibition to putting wind turbines onto North Carolina mountains

"There's no carve out for wind energy at this point. The wind potential is great offshore but that's not part of the puzzle right now here in North Carolina," said Efthimiou.

The report from the National Wildlife Federation says offshore wind could become a $200 billion industry bringing in as many as 43,000 jobs.

In the last three years Charlotte-based Duke has spent $1.25 billion dollars on wind.  This year it moved into the top 10 producers of wind power in the United States.

Copyright 2010 WBTV. All rights reserved.