March 16 (UPI) -- More than 100,000 acres off the coast of North Carolina go on the auction block Thursday for potential wind energy development, the U.S. government said.
The U.S. Department of Interior pounded the gavel to open the seventh offshore wind auction, putting 122,405 acres off the North Carolina coast on the block for commercial wind energy leasing.
In August 2014, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a division with the Interior Department, identified three areas offshore North Carolina that were suitable for potential wind energy development. The closest to the shoreline would be the Wilmington West wind energy area, located 10 nautical miles from shore. The furthest out would be the Kitty Hawk wind energy area, which begins 24 nautical miles from shore.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McRory's government said last year that siting wind turbines further offshore would alleviate some of the concerns about marine habitats as some bird, reptilian and mammalian species of concern are active close to the shoreline.
At 10 nautical miles, the Wilmington West area is inside a prospective buffer zone. The state Department of Environmental and Natural Resources said it appreciated the opportunity to host offshore wind, but moving power offshore would require "extensive infrastructure at a significant cost to the state."
According to the department, it would cost about $1.3 billion to build the transmission lines necessary to link to offshore wind. Because of that, the department said it would be "irresponsible" for the state not to get a portion of the revenue from the wind energy lease sale.
For energy potential, the state environment group said North Carolina has more wind energy potential offshore than any other Atlantic Coast state. Tapping into "just a fraction" could satisfy 20 percent of the state energy needs and create at least 10,000 new jobs.
The American Wind Energy Association described wind energy as "a new cash crop," with lease payments totaling $245 million last year. The United States is far behind the rest of the world in its development of offshore wind, however.
The federal BOEM said the provisional winners of the auction will be announced as soon as possible upon verification of the bids.