Sunday’s editorial urges some more excitement and interest on the state level when it comes to wind energy:
“We’re just watching the turbines go around.”
– North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce CEO Marc Jordan, on the latest action in the region’s wind energy initiatives.
What happened to the state’s excitement about wind energy? After what had been a strong, united effort a few years ago to push into the forefront of the emerging industry, the state effort has largely stagnated.
It’s not for lack of interest on the local level. The North Strand Coastal Wind Team, which erected a few test turbines on the roofs of hotels in North Myrtle Beach, is still committed to the idea of building a wind energy industry on the Grand Strand.
Jordan said that “we’re as ready if not more ready than anybody in South Carolina.”
And Santee Cooper’s efforts down south in Georgetown’s Winyah Bay are also primed to move forward. But the utility, which just pushed through a rate increase, is hesitant to foot by itself the $4 million to $5 million bill for sinking a wind speed measurement device into the ocean.
“We’re ready to go to the next step,” said utility spokeswoman Mollie Gore, “but financially so far we just can’t justify it.”
What’s everybody waiting for? Some help or direction from the state or federal government.
“All we’re doing now is sort of monitoring what’s going on at the state level, the national level,” Jordan said this week.
And there’s not a whole lot going on at the state level these days. A national report on Atlantic wind energy potential released this month by the National Wildlife Federation prompted some renewed interest for a few days. But for the most part, while other states on the Atlantic coast push ahead with their efforts to harness the winds, South Carolina watches and waits.
This wasn’t the situation just a few years ago. In 2008, the General Assembly convened an offshore wind feasibility committee to study the possibilities and realities of the industry in our state. The group, which included Surfside Beach’s Rep. Nelson Hardwick, held meetings across South Carolina, ultimately releasing a report with 18 recommendations in 2010. Among those recommendations: The establishment of state policy to support 1,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2018, programs to incentivize the development of offshore wind farms and an expansion of renewable energy tax credits. Unfortunately, like so many government studies before, its recommendations have been largely ignored.
State Sen. Paul Campbell, who chaired that wind energy study committee, told the S.C. Radio Network recently that the state basically has no energy plan, though he hopes to lobby for more renewable incentives in this coming session. In the meantime, he sees us falling behind other coastal states, at least partly because we simply haven’t made such efforts a statewide priority.
“We had our public comment period, there were 100 percent people in favor of – in the Georgetown area, North Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach – there was 100 percent support for what we are trying to do. So I think that’s important,” Campbell told the Radio Network. “We’ve got all the elements here; we’ve just got to create a sense of urgency.”
South Carolina remains a prime location for wind energy products. With the world’s largest wind turbine research facility at Clemson University coming online this fall and a labor force in need of work, we’re uniquely sited for both the testing and the production of turbines, which are best produced close to where they are erected, given their size. Our shallow coast is well suited to the installation of offshore projects, and we’ve already proven that we support the idea. A study this summer by the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson estimated that a 1,000 MW facility, such as the one recommended by the legislative group, would produce 4,000 jobs and a $4.2 billion economic impact.
Our area is primed to receive the largest portion of that impact. Campbell and others have floated the idea of a wind farm off the coast of the Grand Strand. The North Strand team have pushed for a facility built on the Jim Caudle reef near Little River. Santee Cooper, after studying our coast, opted to pursue a project in Winyah Bay.
Construction of a facility anywhere off our coast is still years away, and it would have to travel a long road of obtaining permits, moderating design issues, working out shipping and wildlife concerns and more. But the result – less dependence on fossil fuels, increased employment, the establishment of a new industry in our state and our region – is worth the trouble. Our local legislators return to Columbia in January. Here’s hoping they take with them a sense of urgency.