Scott Mooneyham: Contrasting views on coastal wind turbines

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 1, 2009

RALEIGH ó Anyone who has ever stayed in an upper-story condo or hotel room in Atlantic Beach, Morehead City or Beaufort knows about the competing views.
Look in one direction, and you’re likely drink in a painting-like scene of water, sky, boats and birds. Gazing out another window, you’ll probably see an industrial landscape of tall cranes, storage warehouses, and railroad cars.
Somehow, though, the port at Morehead City doesn’t seem to have hurt the development of tourism in the area. In fact, the stark contrast of the powerful machinery, built by the hand of man, and the raw seascape around it, built by the hand of God, stirs something in the soul.
Some of the people living on the Outer Banks apparently aren’t comforted by the history of Atlantic Beach and Morehead, aren’t convinced that industrial towers won’t spoil their pristine views and tourism economy.
Marc Basnight, the powerful head of the North Carolina Senate, can’t be counted among them. Last week, he gave pretty solid endorsement of the idea of wind turbines along the North Carolina coast.
Basnight has always been protective of his beloved Outer Banks and its tourism economy. He hasn’t always been so supportive of the idea of 500-foot wind turbines dotting the coastal landscape.
But at a conference held on Hatteras Island last week on the issue of coastal wind farms, Basnight told residents that wind turbines were a better alternative than global warming and rising sea levels.
“Change is not quickly accepted by me and less quickly by people on this island,” Basnight said.
Change, though, is coming.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with the help of Duke Energy, hope to build one to three of the giant turbines a few miles west of Hatteras Island out in the Pamlico Sound. The test turbines could go up as early as next year. If successful, they could lead to more widespread development of wind farms along the coast.
The researchers have already conducted a study that concluded that area in the interior waters off Buxton would provide the best place to produce wind energy.
One of the wind turbines could provide enough power for 500 homes. And they could do so without producing the pollution of fossil fuels, although costs compared to coal and natural gas remains a sticking point.
Wind is going to be a significant component of America’s power generation in the future.
Other states ó New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Delaware ó are already pursuing plans to build coast wind farms. Some residents in those states are also opposed, worried that their piece of paradise will no longer be so pure.
But as Basnight pointed out, unless you’re a fish, the alternative might not look so much like paradise in the future. And who knows? Some might even find the resulting landscape a little awe-inspiring.
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Mooneyham is a columnist for Capitol Press Association.