Duke University Marine Lab scientist to lead 5-year offshore wind energy study

A wind energy turbine turns in the breeze next to the road on Pivers Island leading to the Duke University Marine Lab. A faculty member there is set to lead a five-year study on offshore development. (Mike Shutak photo)

BEAUFORT — A study of the potential effects of offshore wind development on wildlife is ready to begin, with a Duke University Marine Lab faculty member at the helm.

DUML Randolph K. Repass and Sally-Christine Rogers University Distinguished Professor of Conservation Technology in Environment and Engineering Dr. Doug Nowacek is the lead researcher for the Wildlife and Offshore Wind study. According to Dr. Nowacek, this five-year study is scheduled to start around the first of the year.

“It’s a great team we’ve managed to assemble,” Dr. Nowacek told the News-Times. “I’m honored to lead it.”

According to the study’s website, its purpose is to evaluate the potential effects of offshore wind energy development on marine life.

Such development has been a subject of debate in Carteret County and elsewhere on the North Carolina coast, with proponents seeing offshore wind development as a sustainable alternative energy source to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil imports. However, others have voiced concerns about potential effects to tourism, boat and vessel traffic and the environment, including wind turbines potentially disturbing marine animals and killing birds and bats.

Dr. Nowacek said he decided to lead the study because it’s an opportunity for him to do work with two subjects he enjoys: whales and acoustics.

“It’s also an opportunity for Duke students to get in on this (alternative energy) enterprise,” he said. “North Carolina is doing a good job on developing renewable energy.”

According to the study website, a “multi-institution consortium” will be involved in the study, which will span the entire U.S. East Coast. Involved institutions include:

  • The Cornell Lab
  • Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
  • Scientific Innovations Inc.
  • Syracuse University College of Arts & Sciences
  • Tetra Tech
  • The University of St. Andrews
  • New England Aquarium
  • Wildlife Conservation Society
  • Florida State University
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • Stony Brook University
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
  • Penn State University

The U.S. Department of Energy and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will fund the study.

When it comes to offshore wind energy, Dr. Nowacek said it’s “hugely important” for wind energy to be studied and, where viable, developed.

“I know people have differing opinions on the sight of turbines,” he said, “but most sites are 20+ miles offshore. In a relatively small area, we can generate a lot of electricity.”

Accurate collection of data is a key part of the study, he continued. Doing so will mean comparing the potential environmental effects of offshore energy development to the potential effects of offshore oil and gas development.

“The offshore construction of turbines is much easier to mitigate the noise than seismic airguns,” he said.

Seismic airguns are a non-drilling method of searching for oil and natural gas deposits. Many scientists and others have raised concerns that such equipment can harm marine life sensitive to sound, such as mammals and fish.

Dr. Nowacek indicated the study will show offshore wind energy turbines have negligible effects on wildlife. He said there are few significant threats to marine mammals beyond some displacement from driving the pilings, and the impacts to birds and bats is reduced by their distance from shore and height.

He also said offshore wind energy development may provide significant economic opportunities to Carteret County. Since Morehead City is home to a state port, its one of the few locations the parts for the turbines may be constructed and shipped out to development sites.

“Overall, we need to do the science,” Dr. Nowacek said, “but the opportunities for mitigating the effects are greater (than for fossil fuels).”


Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

(12) comments

David Collins

5 years to study potential . Potential . Ha , ha , ha . You gotta love academia . More like looking for a job is what it is . A five year job .

Only have to look at those failed/failing attempts in Europe and beyond to see what will come from all this silliness . On the bright side , they will make for mighty good artificial reefs to fish on .


The UK got a quarter of their power from wind turbines last year. Seems pretty successful to me.

There could be quite an impact in building large wind farms, I would certainly hope that it would be studied thoroughly before spending stupid sums of money building them.

They already have a job. Clearly you don't have much if a grasp on how academic research works.


Yep, scientists always have to dream up issues to stay employed.


As you post your comments on a computer, invented by scientists, communicated over the internet, invented by scientists.


Yep, but I'm using the internet invented by Al Gore. He's not a scientist and without the internet, my computer wouldn't let me post here.


Dak, thanks for the info. Actual positive comments are refreshing.

morehood city res

scientist and wind energy in the headline, you just sent some of your biggest fans into a tailspin tizzy CCNT

David Collins

Another half truth . Sure the UK briefly received a chunk of power but now is scrambling far and wide for fuel oil and natural gas . The old windmills are not quite up to the job and power prices are escalating . Same goes for the EU and other countries as well . Even China is not immune in spite of having arguably the worlds largest renewable energy gardens . You really need to keep up with this nonsense before jumping headlong into the unknown . Besides , windmills at sea are in no way secure , get where I am going ?

News flash ,research follows dollars and leads to begging for more dollars for more research . Always has . Our own perpetual motion machine in action .

These are positive comments , just not idealistic ones . The church of the painful truth never pleases everyone .

Suggest you idealistic ones invest in a subscription to The Economist for Christmas . Plenty of European idealism in it but unlike here in the US it tells both sides of the story . As they say , the good , the bad and the ugly but that might be hard reading for some .


No half truth, I didn't say they received all their power from wind. Of course they're scrambling for fuel. Much of their power comes from fuel.

Diversity in power supply is a good thing. They'd need even more fuel without wind energy.

And I don't get where you're going with windmills at sea being insecure. Whatever concern you have isn't quite as obvious to all of us. Security from storms? Ship traffic? Enemies? Antifa? If you have specific insight, please share it with the teams of experts and PhDs to add to their list of elements to study. Perhaps your concern hasn't occurred to them yet.


Please keep your comments directed to the content of the story. Remarks about other people on the forum and their supposed ignorance since they don't agree with you will not be approved.

David Collins

Trying to follow the editors instructions here . Off shore windmills are subject to all of the dangers you described , some more than others . So , put that into the bag of potentials .

Really do not see why the study . Been studied to death . We know what powers them , how they work , what is required to get any current shoreside for processing and they are massively expensive to build and maintain . What else will these studies reveal other than lack of practicality . How often has perceived potential not measured up to the hype ?


That's the great thing about science. Even though you may not understand it, smart educated people can do research and you can benefit from it. I have no idea how to make a rocket work, but I get to benefit from satellites. It's ok that you don't understand why they do this research. They probably don't get what you do either. Although I suspect no one is armchair quarterbacking your job with no insight or professional understanding.

Welcome to the discussion.

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