Windmill's excess energy will power others in North Carolina

CAPE HATTERAS, NORTH CAROLINA - Your electricity could be coming from the wind.

And not just any wind. These breezes are blowing right off the northern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore and twirling a rather unassuming 70-foot-high wind turbine. For two years it has powered the Coquina Beach bathhouse. Now it has the potential to power places farther away.

Dominion North Carolina Power has installed a second meter and connected the wind turbine to the state's electricity grid. That means excess energy produced there will go back into the grid that serves the rest of North Carolina. The wind turbine is a first in this part of the state, said Jeff Brooks, communications coordinator for NC GreenPower, a Raleigh-based non profit that promotes green energy and is a partner in the project.

The turbine was also a first on National Park Service land in North Carolina. The way it works: Dominion and NC GreenPower buy back the extra energy, which helps pay for the project and finance others like it, Brooks said. The average Dominion household uses about 12,000 kilowatt-hours a year, according to the company. Brooks said the Coquina turbine can produce about 6,000 kilowatt-hours a year. Most of that is used by the bathhouse, but what isn't used finds its way to others. Wind power is still rare in this part of the country, even as sprawling windmill "farms" have sprouted on the West Coast.

The fact that the Coquina turbine is now part of the state power supply "helps pave the way for more wind projects and even bigger wind projects," Brooks said. On the coast, the wind whips up at least three times the power elicited in the Piedmont, he said. "We see wind power as a very promising and emerging technology." Jockey's Ridge State Park began considering windmills last year. The sand dunes were created by wind and are kept by wind, George Barnes, parks superintendent has said, so using it just seemed natural. Two turbines, one 35 feet high and one 60 feet, would help power restrooms and a maintenance building.

But they could be at least a year away, Barnes said. Before the park can move forward, it must complete a count of birds to make sure the windmills wo ldn't interfere with them.


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