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Wind energy blows into area -- piece by mammoth piece

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Craig Poff, director of Business Development for Iberdrola Renewables, stands at the base of one of the sections of a turbine tower in storage yard in Edenton, Wednesday, May 25, 2016.

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Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, May 26, 2016

EDENTON — Standing in a storage yard in Edenton Wednesday, Craig Poff said the puzzle pieces are falling into place for Amazon Wind Farm US East.

And they’re big puzzle pieces.

Poff estimated as many as 30 wind towers are sitting at the site, each laid down in four sections that total about 300 feet in length. Poff, a project developer for Iberdrola Renewables, said the company is days away from having the tower sections hauled out to the wind farm that will span 22,000 acres of the “desert” area of Perquimans and Pasquotank counties. There, cranes as high as 350 feet will start stacking the sections – one is already visible from U.S. Highway 17 “if you know where to look,” Poff said — and then affixing 180-foot turbine blades to them.

In other words, local residents and travelers are about to see what a $400 million wind farm looks like.

Poff said the wind towers will start going up first near U.S. 17 north of the Pasquotank County Commerce Park, and spread out from there. It’s planning to have 104 turbines up and running by year’s end, he said.

Less visible work has been happening on-site since the project’s groundbreaking last July. Now, Poff said, workers have almost finished a 60-mile road network, continue pouring concrete foundations for the towers, and are installing electrical infrastructure. More than 200 people continue working on-site, he said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Gamesa corporation has been delivering wind tower components to Iberdrola from across the globe. Poff said the Spanish manufacturer is overseeing delivery, assembly, and commissioning of the wind towers.

Tower components started getting staged off Soundside Road in Edenton around March, according to Poff. The tower sections were manufactured in Indonesia by the firm Korindo and ported to the U.S. through the ports of Wilmington and Morehead City, Poff said. Going forward, he said most parts will come through Morehead City, with some also from the Port of Virginia.

Transporting the large parts also requires trailers custom-fit to each component type, Poff said, also noting state officials restrict those trailers from being on the road during high-traffic times. The tower sections, widest at their bases, have a diameter of about 20 feet, he estimated.

Once towers start moving onto the project site, Poff said the plan is to start moving out a tower a day from the storage yard. Each one will take a couple days to assemble, he said.

People may soon see turbines spinning, he said, but that will be for testing. The project won’t start producing power until later this year, Poff said.

The wind farm will supply power to Amazon Web Services, a subsidiary of the internet giant Amazon. In announcing it would be the customer for the former “Desert Wind” project, AWS officials said the company plans to run entirely on renewable energies. AWS also plans to be at least 40 percent towards that goal by the end of 2016.

Also present at the storage yard Wednesday were undergraduate students from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Professor Greg Gangi said he brought the students there to learn firsthand how renewable energy projects come to life, and to discuss the many disciplines that can be employed in the field. The industry draws on expertise in engineering, business, management, finance, analytics and public policy, he said.

It’s also a growth industry, he said, that’s dropping in price while rising as a share of global energy production. Even in the oil-oriented Persian Gulf, he said, wind power now costs a few cents a kilowatt and he noted the U.S. Department of Energy has found it’s possible wind could supply a fifth of American energy by 2030. That’ll likely reflect wind taking market share from the declining coal industry.

In that report, prepared in 2008 and available online, the DOE estimated wind power would have to rise to more than 300 gigawatts to meet the “20 percent by 2030” threshold. The report estimated wind generation in 2006 at 11.6 GW. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. had about 74 GW of wind capacity at the end of 2015.

Poff said there’s “broad consensus in the wind energy industry that the “20 percent by 2030” threshold is achievable. The technology is there, he said, describing the main challenge as “on again, off again” support for the industry. Federal and state officials have scaled back credits and support for the industry, he said, despite numerous permanent subsidies in place for other energy industries. That inconsistent support, he said, is why Gamesa produces turbines overseas instead of in the U.S.

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