Wednesday's editorial highlights the many benefits of exploring wind power off the coast of Georgetown.
Economic blows have come in cascades in Georgetown of late, as its port and steel mill have alternated over recent months with ever-worsening news for their employees.
These woes reflect the weakened state of American industry and will thus be difficult for local leaders to counter, though some are valiantly trying. A report this weekend, however, suggested one bright hope on the horizon: the wind-energy industry.
As reported this weekend, collaboration between Santee Cooper and Coastal Carolina University is well under way on a project to collect data on offshore windspeeds, searching for the perfect place to deploy an offshore platform for wind turbines. Winds over land in South Carolina are insufficient to turn the football-field-size turbines, but stretching for miles just off the Atlantic Coast, a "wind belt" regularly brings 18- to 19-mph windspeeds that are stronger than those in some midwestern states where wind-farm plans are already more developed.
The energy potential for the state is enormous. "The Department of Energy thinks wind farms off South Carolina could generate 5,000 megawatts in 22 years, the equivalent of about four new nuclear reactors or eight coal plants," according to a Post and Courier article printed in The Sun News this weekend.
If Santee Cooper can find the perfect spot, the company hopes to build its first 80-megawatt wind farm, which would be able to power 40,000 homes. In South Carolina, the wind belt's closest points to shore are just a few miles off the Winyah Bay. Georgetown's coastal geography gives it a natural edge over Charleston, for example, where the high-speed portion of the wind belt is much farther offshore.
Relatively speaking, the price may be within reach. Santee Cooper officials have estimated the wind farm's price at $300 million to $500 million. By contrast, the utility had already spent more than $240 million on its recently-scrapped coal plant (it plans to recoup some of that by reselling materials that had been bought in anticipation of construction), which was projected to cost $1.25 billion for one 600-megawatt boiler.
South Carolina's offshore wind effort, however, severely lags behind a number of Northeastern states. The $1 billion, 420-megawatt Cape Wind project in Massachussetts is already seeking federal approval and hopes to be online in two years; groups in New Jersey and Delaware are separately seeking their own large wind farms; and the governor of Rhode Island is pushing for an offshore wind farm to be built by 2012.
By contrast, the data buoys off our coast represent an investment of $430,000, nearly half of which was a federal grant. Based on their data, the second step will be construction of a platform to test windspeeds at higher altitudes. Then, supposing a site is found, the hard part begins: environmental-impact studies, public hearings over the turbines' aesthetics (some find the offshore constructs unsightly) and construction in difficult ocean conditions.
With such obvious economic benefits to Georgetown specifically and the state as a whole, we hope government and business leaders at the local and state levels will find innovative ways to move this project along.