Locally owned Wind Turbines of South Carolina hopes to reap windfall of renewable energy

gmartin@islandpacket.comFebruary 20, 2012 

It attracts gawkers and curiosity-seekers wherever it goes, prompting questions from onlookers staring skyward.

But the wind turbine on temporary display Thursday in Beaufort Plaza Shopping Center's parking lot is more than a novelty.

It's a harbinger, its owners hope, of an increased commitment to harvesting the gusts along South Carolina's coast and converting them into clean, renewable energy.

"South Carolina has been slow in getting onto the renewable energy grid, but it's coming along," said Sam Kirkland, co-owner of Bluffton-based Wind Turbines of South Carolina.

Since founding the company in 2010, Kirkland has overseen the distribution and installation of several turbines in the state, including one last summer at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.

This week, the company is installing two more in North Myrtle Beach, and Kirkland says he expects local business to grow exponentially in coming years.

It's not just bluster, said Ellen Carey of the American Wind Energy Association.

"Currently, there (are) hardly any wind (turbines) installed in the southern states," she said. "The sweet spot for wind is Texas through North Dakota."

But that's changing, she says, as improvements have made turbines about 15 times more effective than they were in the 1990s.

Such turbines could become fixtures along South Carolina's beaches, Kirkland said.

"From North Myrtle Beach through Tybee Island, that's some of the best on- and off-shore wind on the whole Atlantic Coast," he said, adding that wind harvesting could reduce towns' energy costs by as much as 20 percent.

Lee Stogner, chairman of the S.C. Engineering Cluster, said the flat continental shelf extending into the Atlantic off the state's coast is ideal for wind farms.

"Most renewable energy farms are far, far away from population centers, but that would not be the case here," he added, saying the proximity of coastal cities would facilitate the construction and maintenance of offshore facilities.

Stogner said the state's first offshore wind farm could be built within five to 10 years.

In the meantime, Kirkland and fellow owner Greg Courtney are pitching their turbines to municipalities, private businesses and even homeowners.

"We tell them that at about $20,000, it's the price of a small car, and it lets you own your energy for about 30 years," Kirkland said.

The company's turbines aren't made locally, but all of its business negotiations and initiatives are based out of its Bluffton office.

That includes demonstrating its "Skystream" model, as they did last week in Beaufort.

Unscrewing its 11-foot fiberglass rotors and lowering its 1,200-pound frame into a trailer, Kirkland paused momentarily.

"I'm 60, and I wish I were 30 years younger," he said. "This area of the country is just going to take off."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

Related content:

Parris Island officials testing wind as energy source, Oct. 25, 2010

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