State officials this morning approved the construction of a 300-megawatt wind farm in eastern North Carolina, by far the single largest green energy project proposed in this state by many orders of magnitude.
The approval by the N.C. Utilities Commission is just the first of a numerous local, state and federal permits the Desert Wind Energy Project will need before it can proceed with building the proposed 150 turbines across 31 square miles of farmland in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.
If Desert Wind is built on schedule next year, it would be the first commercial-scale wind energy project in the Southeast and one of the biggest wind farms in the nation. It would generate enough power for 55,000 to 70,000 homes per year on average.
The $600 million project, planned to begin generating power at the end of 2012, is proposed by the American subsidiary of Iberdrola, a Spanish energy company that's the world's biggest developer of wind energy projects.
Desert Wind would sell power to U.S. electric utilities that are required to use green energy to meet state requirements for including more renewables in their energy mix. Among the likely candidates to buy the power would be Raleigh-based Progress Energy and Charlotte-based Duke Energy.
The project has to get permits from half-dozen N.C. agencies, including the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Iberdrola also has to get clearance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as three branches of the U.S. armed forces.
Iberdrola is also in the early stages of exploring developing 450 megawatts of wind farms in Camden and Currituck counties, but it has not filed applications for these projects with the N.C. Utilities Commission. Iberdrola has set up wind-speed measuring equipment and is discussing land-lease options with local property owners for erecting the turbines, which are nearly 500 feet tall from the ground to the tip of the outstretched blade.
Iberdrola is reportedly paying landowners about $6,000 a year for each tower they agree to host on their property.