The first federal offshore wind energy lease off North Carolina went for $9 million to Avangrid Renewables LLC. The company topped three competitors in 17 bidding rounds for 122,405 acres, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The second largest wind energy producer in the U.S., Avangrid operates 53 wind farms in 18 states with 6.3 GW capacity, and the Amazon wind farm near Elizabeth City, N.C., that generates power for the online retailer's Virginia data centers. Spanish energy company Iberdrola S.A. is a majority owner of Avangrid.

Other lease bidders were Statoil Wind US LLC — subsidiary of the Norwegian energy major that paid a record $42.5 million to lease a 79,000-acre area off New York — and Wind Future LLC and wpd offshore LLC.

Located east of Kitty Hawk, N.C., the lease begins about 24 nautical miles from shore and extends 25.7 nautical miles in a general southeast direction. Based on estimates that 3 megawatts of electricity can be generated by wind over a square kilometer, the area could generate a maximum 1,486 MW if fully developed, according to BOEM.

A BOEM map shows the proposed wind energy area off North Carolina.

A BOEM map shows the proposed wind energy area off North Carolina.

The agency began working with the North Carolina Renewable Energy Task Force in 2010 to identify an area big enough for offshore wind development, and avoid ecologically sensitive areas and multiple use conflicts. Those have been a major issue in the Northeast, where the Cape Wind proposal in Massachusetts has stalled for years, and commercial fishermen are challenging Statoil’s New York lease in court.

In a statement, Avangrid CEO James P. Torgerson said the company is ready to make its move into the U.S. offshore market.

“Between our leading position in the United States, including North Carolina…along with the expertise and experience of our international affiliate, Iberdrola Group, in developing offshore wind in Europe, we felt we were well positioned to secure this bid,” Torgerson said. “We are confident in our ability to leverage those channels, along with our supply chain knowledge and our development and transmission expertise, in order to deliver a competitively priced product to our eventual customers.”

Interest is high among European wind developers who already operate hundreds of offshore turbines at home and see opportunity in selling power into East Coast urban centers. But there is uncertainty about how the Trump administration will view wind power. There is a powerful ideological tilt at the White House in favor of oil and gas, and coal development.

Still, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke struck a positive note in his first official statement on a wind lease sale.

“The success of this lease sale reflects the continued interest of coastal communities to develop their offshore energy resources,” said Zinke. “Renewable energy, like offshore wind, is one tool in the all of the above energy toolbox that will help power America with domestic energy, securing energy independence, and bolstering the economy. This is a big win for collaborative efforts with state, local, and private sector partners.”

Following a review of the sale by the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission, Avangrid will have a year to conduct studies and submit a site assessment plan to BOEM. Following that, the company has four-and-a-half years to submit construction plans, and a 25-year operational period for a wind farm on the lease.

BOEM had held six previous competitive lease sales, generating $58 million in high bids for more than one million acres in federal waters, including Statoil’s New York play. That lease was finalized Friday. In a statement, Statoil Wind president Knut Aanstad stressed the support the company is getting from New York state and local officials.

"Statoil is pleased with the support that we have already received from various stakeholders, including the business community and environmental groups, and impressed with the enthusiasm expressed for the development of offshore wind by state agencies and stakeholders in New York alike. We look forward to meeting with all stakeholder groups and the local community as the project progresses.”

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.