Offshore wind farms would generate economic power for SC, study says

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comOctober 15, 2012 

A wind farm off South Carolina's coast would generate electricity, create thousands of new jobs and spin off millions of dollars in wages and tax revenue, but there are no plans for such a project, according to a Clemson University report.

A big reason why wind farms haven't caught on is their exorbitant cost: Building one would cost $2.1 million per megawatt, or a total of $21 billion over 10 years, according to the Clemson report.

"The Lowcountry is well-suited for producing wind and solar (energy); however, we continue to monitor the market and the viability of the transmission of the power and the cost to the consumer," said Kim Statler, executive director of the Lowcountry Economic Network.

"Alternative energy continues to be very expensive to produce," she said.

The Clemson report examined the potential economic effect of a 1,000-megawatt offshore wind farm built between 2016 and 2025. Construction of the turbines would create more than 3,800 jobs a year for 10 years, generate nearly $2 billion in wages and nearly $620 million in state and local tax revenue, according to the report.

The report, released this month by Clemson's Restoration Institute and the Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs, was prerpared for the S.C. Energy Office.

The report didn't specify a location for a wind farm. But to produce electricity, the farm's turbines would have to be in an area with sustained winds of at least 12 mph, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The turbines would have to be built far from local beaches and tourist destinations -- at least 30 miles from land and in water at least 80 feet deep, according to researchers. Even at that distance from shore, local conservation groups have concerns about the impact on local marine and wildlife.

"There is great potential off the coast ... (but) permitting would be complex and would require a number of studies -- for example, bird and marine environmental impacts," said Steve Eames, spokesman for the S.C. Coastal Conservation League.

"A relatively small-scale demonstration project, say 50 megawatts in capacity, would help (state utility companies) and other stakeholders understand more about deploying this resource."

An offshore wind farm would probably be the state's only opportunity to harness wind as a major source of energy, because inland wind speeds won't sustain commercial turbines, according to Santee Cooper, a state-owned water and electric utility.

Santee Cooper has worked with Clemson and Coastal Carolina University on Palmetto Wind, a project studying the possibilities of generating wind energy offshore near Georgetown. Data are being gathered from buoys near Georgetown that measure wind speed, direction and frequency.

Despite the high cost and other challenges, some state officials, including those at the S.C. Department of Commerce, remain bullish on wind power and other renewable energy sources they say could become a vital part of the state's environmental and economic future.

"Commerce supports ongoing research and development that will help further our state's portfolio of alternative and sustainable energy, including wind," S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said in a statement. "These industries can help fill the pipeline with high-skilled, high-paying jobs."

Related content:

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

Read the Clemson University report

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