Study: Offshore wind farms could tame deadly hurricanes

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NC (WWAY) — When you think of offshore wind turbines and hurricanes, you might think flying blades of death hurtling toward the shore. But a new study shows offshore wind farms could actually tame beastly storms, making them less deadly and less expensive.

Mark Jacobson, an engineering professor at Stanford University, was looking into offshore wind power for New York when hurricane Sandy hit the state hard. It brought up a serious concern: would a hurricane damage wind turbines?

“Our hypothesis would be well, if you have enough wind turbines, then that might actually diminish the hurricane, say it wouldn’t actually destroy them,” Jacobson said in a phone interview with WWAY.

So Jacobson and his team used complex modeling to figure out the impacts large wind farms would have had on three mega-storms: Sandy, Isaac and Katrina.

They found that more than 80,000 50-foot wind turbines off the east coast could have reduced Sandy’s winds up to 87 miles per hour and its storm surge up to 34 percent.

“The offshore wind turbines would generate electricity, pay for themselves, reduce both storm surge and wind speeds helping to protect the city,” Jacobson said.

But while this might seem like a good idea, some say it’s simply not practical, and others worry about the wildlife in the ocean.

“I am overwhelmed by the concept of a huge wind turbine field in our ocean and the effect on marine life and the birds, and the amount of money to see if it might work,” said Jo Pickett, owner of Crystal South Surf Camp at Wrightsville Beach.

The two largest offshore wind farms being developed in the US are slated to have at most 200 turbines; a small number compared to the thousands factored into the study.

“Yeah, that’s a lot of wind turbines,” surfer Dan Williams said.

Williams and fellow surfer Joe Voshell say they worry turbines could impact the swells.

“I think it could definitely be a positive thing just as long as it doesn’t affect the waves too much,” Voshell said.

This technology might be coming to our shores.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has been looking into adding wind turbines off the coast of Brunswick County, but not to the extent the Stanford study says would help dampen the blow of a hurricane.

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