Gov. Roy Cooper says it's time to end legislative battles over wind energy and make sure it's part of a future clean energy system in North Carolina.
Cooper's Clean Energy Plan released in October calls for fighting climate change by shifting to cleaner sources of electricity.
"Part of that future needs to be wind -- particularly offshore wind," he said Wednesday at a conference in Cary hosted by the Southeastern Wind Coalition.
North Carolina has been slower than some neighboring states to embrace wind energy, amid resistance from some Republican lawmakers. In September, Virginia's Dominion Energy announced plans for a 220-turbine wind farm off the coast near Norfolk.
In North Carolina, an 18-month moratorium on new wind farms ended Dec. 31, 2018. This year, some Republican lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to revive a ban in eastern North Carolina and its coastal waters.
Cooper said Wednesday he'll fight any future bans, to remove uncertainty for wind developers.
"Lemme just tell you right now: There's gonna be no more moratoriums North Carolina, I can guarantee you that," he said, drawing applause.
"I would veto any kind of wind moratorium, and I believe that any veto can be sustained. There's now enough political will across the aisle to fend off the negative things," Cooper added.
Two years ago, Cooper signed a bill that had a wind moratorium tacked onto it. He said at the time he opposed the moratorium, but it was a trade-off to get legislation that promoted solar energy development.
The question now is whether new legislation can be passed to make it easier for wind farm developers, said Katharine Kollins of the Southeastern Wind Coalition. She said North Carolina lags neighboring states like Virginia, and needs to adopt rules that allow regulators to approve wind farms, even though the electricity they generate is typically more expensive than solar or other energy types.
"The development of offshore wind will certainly require some kind of policy mechanism. And that's because the benefits from offshore wind are much larger than that of just electrons," Kollins said. "So if you're a regulated utility and you're pricing energy and you're pricing which projects are going to be the least expensive for your ratepayers, you're not allowed to take into consideration the economic development benefits."
In his speech Wednesday, Cooper said North Carolina should strive to become a leader in the wind industry, which could bring jobs and other economic benefits.
"We should also move to make sure we are taking advantage of the billions of dollars of infrastructure investment that is going to be made in this industry," Cooper said, adding there will be spending on related investments by companies that supply wind projects.
North Carolina is considered a prime location for the industry, because of steady winds and shallow waters. Three zones have been designated. One company, Avangrid Renewables, has licensed 122,000 acres 24 miles off the Outer Banks.
The company is conducting surveys now. Experts say it could be at least seven years before any wind turbines begin cranking.
Kollins said two other zones farther south off Wilmington are still up for grabs, and likely will require cooperation with the state of South Carolina.
The state's first commercial wind farm opened in late 2016, in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties near Elizabeth City. It's operated by Avangrid and sells power to online retailer Amazon.com.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management page on "Commercial Wind Leasing Offshore North Carolina."
Oct. 2019 North Carolina Clean Energy Plan (PDF)
Avangrid Renewables, Kitty Hawk wind farm page
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct that the lease area for Avangrid Renewables is acres, not square miles.