The offshore wind industry represents a rare economic development opportunity for South Carolina. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the state meets three important cost drivers for developing offshore wind farms: it features strong winds in shallow waters, access to commercial port facilities and a large coastal energy demand. Clemson University’s International Center for Wind Energy Systems, largely funded by the D.O.E. with help from the state and private donors, is still more than two years away. But Dr. John Kelly, Executive Director of the Restoration Institute in North Charleston where the wind turbine testing facility will be located, says the concept is coming together.
We’ve had 90 percent of the world’s wind turbine manufacturers come to Charleston and provide input to us on their expectations of what they’ll need in order to test the most advanced technologies in wind energy. We are now in the stages of doing final negotiations with the companies that will be involved in first of all building the test rig facilities which have never been built in the world before.
Kelly says it takes a lot of advanced thinking in civil engineering, electrical systems and other technologies.
Kelly says the center will be a testing facility using cutting edge technology that will be a magnet for manufacturers that will be catalysts for overall economic growth in the state. When the $98 million dollar award from the Department of Energy for the testing facility was announced, the North Charleston location immediately became a magnet for turbine manufacturing and obviously with turbine manufacturing comes very high end engineering jobs , so it will prove to be a boon to the state’s economy.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that wind turbine manufacturing could eventually generate up to 20,000 jobs in the state.
Kelly says when looking toward the future and the possible location of offshore wind energy farms you must keep in mind that there are some regulatory issues that have to be worked through as far as state regulated waters and federal waters are concerned. Kelly adds that a tourist aspect and a visual aspect may also be associated with the ultimate decision making process.
Sometimes that is at odds with a tourist area that may not want to see the turbines. They may want them further offshore. That is one debate going on right now and that is how far offshore to place turbines in those areas where the citizens do not want to have them in the sight lines of their ocean view. Others places think that it would be quite an attraction to have the turbines out there knowing that we are creating green energy and would not be bothered at all by that look.
Kelly says for electric companies and installers of the wind turbines, the closer the turbines are located to shore is preferable. Electrical cables that serve as the conduits of the energy generated can be run shorter distances.
Kelly says it is important to keep in mind that areas that have the best wind speeds and the most consistent wind speeds are ideal for offshore wind turbine installations. Kelly says testing is on going to find those types of locations in South Carolina.
One would be off the coast of North Myrtle Beach and the other is around the Georgetown area. When they’ve done the wind speed studies and take into account the other considerations relative to proximity to tourists, view lines of the shore that people may have , and the other issues that may come up, the two aforementioned sites look like they have some significant potential for this state.