Windturbines on the oceanThe University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently signed a contract with Duke Energy to place three wind turbines in the Pamlico Sound, on the southern end of the Outer Banks. The turbines—which will be located about 7 to 10 miles from the islands—are scheduled to be erected next year. They will likely be the first commercial wind turbines installed in domestic waters.

Despite the obvious benefits of wind as an emissions-free form of power, it is a divisive issue among some environmentalists. Many opponents worry about towers inhibiting viewsheds and harming bird or bat populations. According to the World Wind Energy Association, the use of wind power doubled between 2005 and 2008. But in 2008 it still only produced 1.5 percent of the world’s electricity.

A majority of residents have been supportive of the Outer Banks wind project. North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue, State Senator Marc Basnight, and Representative Tim Spear held a public meeting in a packed auditorium on the Outer Banks. Opposition was minimal, and almost the entire crowd raised their hands when asked if they would rather see their coast used to harness wind energy instead of offshore oil exploration.

“Residents will see the turbines on the horizon, but they won’t feel like they’re in their backyards,” says Carolyn Elfland, who helped spearhead the project for the university.

After the turbines are installed, they will be monitored for impact on birds and aquatic species and to see how they handle a range of coastal conditions, including tropical storm-force winds. If all goes well, the project could grow into a large offshore wind farm that would annually offset carbon emissions equivalent to 11 coal-fired power plants or nine million cars on the road.