Republican Gov. Pat McCrory asserted his political independence on energy policy this week by throwing his support behind developing wind farms in North Carolina.
Not just any wind farms, but offshore wind farms, which are considered among the most expensive forms of electricity, and generally denounced by conservatives and libertarians as a subsidy-dependent boondoggle.
McCrory notified the feds that he endorses the Obama Administration's efforts to develop offshore wind power. The newly installed governor is making his pro-wind overture at a time that his Republican allies in the state legislature are making plans to roll back North Carolina's 2007 energy law that requires electric utilities to use wind power and other renewables.
McCrory's letter, written Tuesday, to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is causing a stir among green energy advocates.
"During the campaign he focused on offshore and onshore drilling," said Molly Diggins, the Sierra Club's North Carolina director. "So we are very encouraged that the governor recognizes that North Carolina has some of the best wind resources in the United States."
The letter comes a month after the federal agency announced in December that about 1,900 square miles of Atlantic Ocean are available for offshore wind farm development.
"This is an important step to develop North Carolian's world-class wind energy resources," McCrory wrote to the feds. "Development of commercial wind farms off North Carolina's coast could stimulate factory development in the state to provide the necessary equipment and bring jobs in that sector."
McCrory's letter cited several major industrial companies with roots in the state that stand to benefit from wind power expansion. ABB makes cables for power transmission, Nucor makes steel plates used in turbine towers, and PPG makes fiberglass for the blades.
The bureau is within the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees ocean leasing for offshore wind farm development. In December the bureau said it would accept proposals this year from potential wind developers to gauge interest, the first step in offshore wind development.
The bureau held four public information sessions this month in the state to provide an overview of its process and to discuss upcoming steps in the environmental, planning, and leasing process. The meetings were held Nags Head, Kitty Hawk and in Wilmington.
The deadline for developer nominations and stakeholder comments is Jan. 28, but the N.C. State Energy Office, Southeastern Coastal Wind Coalition and other groups have asked that it be extended for a month.
Along the East Coast other states are farther ahead in the process, with several projects approved. Getting one built, however, has proven more difficult, as the projects have run into public opposition and legal challenges.
Those who support the renewable industry have said that if North Carolina takes an anti-subsidy stand on wind, solar and other renewables, other states will jump ahead in line and reap those benefits, such as federal support and economic development.
McCrory campaigned as an advocate of energy drilling as well as fracking for shale gas, but his reputation is that of a practical moderate. His letter states that he believes in a comprehensive energy policy and is working on establishing a partnership with other states on offshore energy development.
"Development of North Carolina's offshore wind energy resources is not just good for this state's economy, but it will continue to fulfill work toward an 'all of the above' strategy to move our nation toward greater energy independence."