An offshore wind farm in development off the coast of Corolla will create thousands of new jobs in northeastern North Carolina — and Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday that regional community colleges will play a key role in training that workforce.
Cooper made his remarks at a meeting of the N.C. Taskforce for Offshore Wind Economic Resource Strategies at the K.E. White Center. Earlier Thursday, Cooper visited the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project 27 miles off the coast from Virginia Beach.
Cooper said last year 85,000 new jobs will be created in the state by 2035 as an expected $140 billion will be invested in offshore wind energy.
The offshore wind farm off Corolla — named the Kitty Hawk project — is one of two offshore wind projects in the state that are in the developmental stages.
The two projects, and possibly others, will offer construction, manufacturing, supply chain and operations and maintenance job opportunities all along the North Carolina coast.
Cooper said training skilled workers will help the state attract good-paying jobs.
“There are great-paying (clean energy) jobs out there for people right now, mostly in the solar area,” Cooper said. “But we know offshore wind is coming and we know the supply chain potential in the northeastern part of the state is significant.”
Cooper said the state has applied for a $23.7 million federal grant to assist educational institutions and businesses in the state to train workers for clean energy jobs. Cooper would like to see some of the money go toward paid apprenticeships.
“We want students beginning in high school to learn about these opportunities that are out there in clean energy to get good paying jobs,” the governor said. “As a state, we are going to try and further that education.”
College of The Albemarle is already making plans to prepare its students for careers in the offshore wind industry after the college received a $975,000 federal grant this year.
COA announced the grant award Friday, saying it will be used to develop and implement a short-term training curriculum to support workforce needs related to offshore wind and maritime ship building.
The Northeastern Workforce Development Board of the Albemarle Commission also is receiving $993,000 as part of the joint award with COA.
The grant comes from the Good Jobs Challenge, which is funded with $500 million from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
COA plans to develop programs helping workers develop skills in electrical and sheet metal work, structural fitting, coating, logistics, wind turbine maintenance and repair, and boatbuilding and repair.
“This is an excellent opportunity for College of The Albemarle to have a deeper economic impact throughout North Carolina as well as Virginia,” said COA President Jack Bagwell. “College of The Albemarle is committed to providing innovative and relevant programs to meet the needs of our community and workforce development throughout our service area and region.”
Duke Energy is developing one of the two projects off the coast near Wilmington. The company’s director of government affairs, Mark McIntire, told the NCTOWERS group in Elizabeth City on Thursday that Duke has a long history of working with the state’s community colleges. He said that partnership will continue.
“That is particularly on apprenticeships and trade programs for craft workers,” McIntire said. “We are going to need a lot of those for this project.”
McIntire also said that Duke will work with historically Black colleges and universities like Elizabeth City State University on workforce development for the project.
“I think we have the best HBCU system in the country,” McIntire said. “We have tremendous opportunities to invest in grant programs for research on all things wind.”
N.C. Marine Industrial Park Authority Director Bob Peele told NCTOWERS that one economic development opportunity in offshore wind is the construction and maintenance of boats needed to transport workers to wind farms.
Peele said that projections show that around 58 crew transport vessels will be needed along the East Coast by 2030.
“Today, there are three,” Peele said. “There is an opportunity to pursue and get some of that manufacturing. There are companies already here in North Carolina to do that work, potentially build some boats.”
Renewable energy company Avangrid — which has operated the Amazon Wind Farm US East project in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties since 2017 — is expected to begin construction on its Kitty Hawk project 27 miles off Corolla in 2025.
Avangrid paid $9 million for the lease rights in 2017 and the company submitted a construction and operations plan with the federal government last year.
The Kitty Hawk project will have 180 wind turbines on 122,000 acres that will produce enough clean energy to power around 700,000 homes when fully operational. If construction begins in 2025 it is expected to take four years to complete.
A second offshore wind farm project off the coast from Bald Head Island near Wilmington is in the very early planning stages. TotalEnergies and Duke Energy Renewables both won the lease rights in May for offshore wind farms totaling about 110,000 acres.
State officials have said that when the two projects currently in development are fully operational they will generate around 4 gigawatts of power, equal to the output from four nuclear power plants.
Duke’s McIntire said offshore wind farms will provide reliable year-round clean energy. He told NCTOWERS that winter peak electrical demands are generally higher than summer peak demands.
“Our solar resources are usually not contributing to that (winter) peak demand, which is before when the sun comes up in January,” McIntire said.