Offshore oil drilling banned along Carolinas

Published 11:02 pm Friday, December 3, 2010

The federal government this week banned offshore oil drilling along the coast of the Carolinas and the rest of the East Coast, reversing its decision this spring to expand&bsp; drilling to new areas.

The ban is expected to spur more investment in wind energy, which is particularly plentiful off the North Carolina coast, according to a National Wildlife Federation report released this week. The report shows North Carolina has the greatest offshore wind resource along the East Coast due to high winds, shallow waters and many miles of coastline.

N.C. Governor Bev Perdue said shes been working to develop the states wind energy industry, and she hopes in the next couple years to attract companies that will put wind turbines off the coast.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who noted the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico as a reason to ban offshore drilling in new regions, said the U.S. government plans to speed up the permitting process for offshore wind energy projects.

Government and wind industry officials said development of wind turbines could power thousands of homes and create thousands of manufacturing jobs. Supporters of offshore oil drilling said drilling in new regions also would have also created jobs and decreased foreign oil demand.

The National Wildlife Federation says southern states in the U.S. are behind those in the north in plans to convert to more renewable energy sources. The federation notes that North Carolina is seeking to get 12 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2021, while New Jersey aims to be at 22.5 percent by then and New York wants to reach 20 percent by 2015.

Some private companies, such as Apex Wind Energy, already have applied for exploratory leases for wind turbines off the N.C. coast. The company said it could use more than 500 turbines to generate enough power for 550,000 homes.

The National Wildlife Federation says North Carolina could generate about 56 economically viable gigawatts in shallow waters, while South Carolina is next with 34.3 viable gigawatts. According to the federation, about six gigawatts of offshore wind projects have been proposed so far along the Atlantic coast, enough to power about 1.5 million U.S. homes.

Dennis Scanlin of the Appalachian State University wind center is urging state officials to also consider the wind resources in North Carolinas mountains. He said its much cheaper to set up turbines in the mountains than in the ocean, and the state has many miles of ridgelines.

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Many areas in Western North Carolina are recovering from storms that dropped around 8 inches of rain in some areas and caused flooding along some rivers and streams. Rosman received 8.5 inches of rain and Lake Toxaway had 7.63 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Close to 7 inches fell near Hendersonville, while the Asheville Regional Airport recorded more than 4 inches. &bsp;

Some roads, including those near the French Broad River, were closed by flooding, and some structures were damaged by mudslides. The French Broad was expected to crest yesterday at about 19.5 feet, 3.5 feet above flood stage.

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North Carolinians have the third highest average total of credit card debt, according to TransUnions analysis of third-quarter figures. The credit and information management agency said Tar Heel state residents have an average of $5,640 of credit card debt, following only Alaska at $7,159 and Hawaii at $5,716. &bsp;

The analysis noted, though, that North Carolinians are below the national average for delinquencies. Only 0.78 percent of North Carolina residents were 90 or more days delinquent, compared to a national rate of 0.83 percent.&bsp; Delinquency rates were much higher in Nevada (1.28 percent) and Florida (1.09 percent).

Nationally, TransUnion reports that credit card delinquencies were down 24.6 percent in the third quarter compared to the same period a year ago. &bsp;

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Home values slipped in the Asheville and Charlotte areas in September, according to the latest housing market reports. Values were down 3.7 percent in Charlotte and 5.26 percent in Asheville compared to September 2009. Asheville and Charlotte initially performed better than other areas of the country hit by real estate market declines, but both cities fared worse than the national average in September. For the 12-month period ending in September, Charlotte was well below the average 0.6 percent gain in home values for the 20 markets in the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Asheville was ranked 254th out of 299 metro areas for price performance over the 12-month period.

Some realtors in the Asheville area said they believe the market has stabilized, while others said its still declining there. Scott Raines of Keller Williams Realty in Asheville said about 10.5 percent of homes on the market there are under contract, well below a normal level of about 25 to 30 percent.

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The Preservation Trust of Spartanburg is closing its doors after working for more than a decade to preserve some of the citys oldest homes and buildings. The organization, started with funds from the City of Spartanburg and the Mary Black, Spartanburg County and Mary Reynolds Babcock foundations, was instrumental in stabilizing the neighborhoods of Hampton Heights and Carlisle Street. The board of directors for the nonprofit organization said it struggled with the decision to close, but the Trust could not make it work anymore financially. The Trust used its funds to buy and restore homes, but its struggled to sell homes in the current housing market.

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N.C. Senator Tom Apodaca said the state legislature will have to consider various cuts to the education budget, including mergers in areas such as Asheville where the county and city operate separate school districts.

Apodaca said its not fair to places such as Polk or Henderson county, which previously merged county and city systems, to keep both the Buncombe County and Asheville city school districts. If such areas want to keep separate districts, he said, they will have to find ways to fund them. Apodaca shared his views in an interview with the Asheville Citizen Times about plans for the upcoming legislative session. Republicans control both the N.C. House and Senate for the first time in more than a century. Apodaca said he expects the general assembly will also work to limit municipalities annexation powers and require voters to present identification.

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Shaw Power Group plans to add 225 jobs to its operation in Charlotte, which it says has become our nations new energy capital. The new engineering jobs are needed after Shaw signed a deal to be the engineering, procurement and construction contractor for Toshiba Corporations new nuclear plants. Shaw, which currently employs about 1,100 in Charlotte, set up an operation in Charlotte earlier this decade after it was hired to design Duke Energys power plants.

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A diesel engine plant is coming to Aiken, SC, thanks to $65 million in federal stimulus money. MTU Detroit Diesel said it will use bonds supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for tooling and equipment. The company plans to invest $45 million and create 250 jobs at the Aiken plant over the next four years.

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Google is expanding its data center campus in Berkeley County near Charleston, SC. The company built two largest warehouse buildings on a 500-acre site in 2008, but only used one of them initially. Now the company plans to expand into the second building due to increased demand for data storage associated with Gmail messages, Picasa photographs, Google Maps and other services.

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Coast Sign Inc. plans to create 135 new jobs when it completes a $2.4 million facility in Greenville County. The company, which installs signs for businesses nationwide, reports increased demand from customers. The new manufacturing facility will be located within the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center.

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Adex Machining Technologies of Greenville, S.C. recently landed a contract to develop airplane engine components for GE Aviation. Adex CEO Jason Premo says he expects the deal, valued at about $1 million annually, will lead to additional contracts with GE, as well as other manufacturers, such as Boeing and Airbus SAS. Premo said his company, which specializes in applications requiring exotic alloys and challenging designs and tolerances, already is planning a new manufacturing facility. Since 2007, Apex has grown from a $2 to $10 million company.

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The Peace Center in Greenville has raised more than half of the $21.5 million needed to revitalize the 20-year-old performance venue. The fundraising includes a $5 million pledge by the Peace family.

The renovation would modernize the center and make it more pedestrian friendly. Plans call for a grand plaza at the front of the theaters and a new outdoor elevator connected to a redesigned lower campus along the Reedy River.

Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2011. The campus will be tied into the nearby Falls Park, and the Huguenot Mill along the river will be redesigned with classrooms and event spaces to encourage more community use.