Gov. Roy Cooper and the Biden administration want to make North Carolina carbon neutral by 2050, and President Biden’s ambitious plans to combat climate change lean heavily on offshore wind generation.

The turbines could be a problem for fishermen.

North Carolina’s fishing industry has largely been cautious in criticizing the wind turbines, saying it wants to wait for more information. But a new report on the impact of wind power on fishermen’s ability to navigate and operate radar could throw cold water on that uneasy truce and increase their insistence on keeping wind projects far from their fisheries.  

The late-February report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, D.C., minced no words, saying, “Offshore wind farms can interfere with navigational radar used by ships and smaller vessels to avoid collisions, posing challenges for safe maritime navigation.” 

Amy Cooke is John Locke Foundation CEO and an energy expert who studies the industry. 

“Demolition derby on the high seas thanks to offshore industrial wind turbines? she asked. “Add maritime navigation and radar challenges to the long list of reasons — including high cost, unreliability, environmental damage and misleading nameplate capacity — as to why offshore industrial wind is absolutely horrible public policy.”

An executive order from Cooper in June 2021 directed state agencies to pursue a goal of 2.8 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. The goal had been to generate 8 GW by 2040. Afterward, Cooper worked with the legislature to create a compromise clean-energy bill, which he signed on Oct. 13, that will shutter some of the state’s coal plants and move the state toward using more wind and solar-generated power.  

The bill, H.B. 951, set targets for Duke Energy in reducing carbon dioxide, with a 70% reduction by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. As Cooper was signing the bill, the Biden administration unveiled a wind-energy plan that included the Wilmington area as one of its seven proposed hubs. 

“Governor Cooper will never achieve his stated goal of zero carbon emissions using offshore wind,” Cooke said. “Using offshore wind is likely to increase emissions with the increased need for backup production. Has anyone stopped to think why the Navy doesn’t power its fleet with industrial wind turbines? People who honestly care about emissions and making sure society has affordable, abundant, clean power champion nuclear energy. Those who advocate for offshore wind are either pandering to their base or profiteering off the backs of North Carolina electric customers.”

North Carolina’s large fishing industry has generally signaled they won’t challenge the wind projects as long as they avoid actively fished areas and areas they need to traverse. But with this report showing a clear link between the wind turbines and disruptions to radar and navigation in ships, the industry will likely continue to demand space between their fisheries and any wind-energy hubs.  

The report continues by explaining that wind-turbine generators “have significant electromagnetic reflectivity” that will “interfere with radar systems operating nearby.” In addition, NAS said, “The rotating blades can also create reflections in Doppler radar systems. In particular, these forms of interference could obfuscate smaller vessels and stationary objects such as buoys on radar, complicating navigation decisions and increasing the risk of collision with larger vessels.” 

All of this led to serious concerns about search-and-rescue teams’ ability to use radar in their operations, saying this interference would “complicate rescue operations near wind farms.” 

While the report is unlikely to halt the growth of wind energy on North Carolina’s coast, it does indicate that concerns about its impacts aren’t unfounded.