Wind potential gains a tryout in North Myrtle Beach
December 1, 2010
NORTH MYRTLE BEACH
-- A new wind turbine in North Myrtle Beach won't power your house, but it could fuel the economy.
The roughly 30-foot turbine is part of a demonstration project by Santee Cooper raised in conjunction with a conference bringing wind energy experts to the area.
Some say wind-power development could create new jobs.
"We see significant energy potential with offshore wind," Erika Myers, manager of Renewable Energy Programs at the S.C. Energy Office, said at a public forum Tuesday night in North Myrtle Beach.
South Carolina has limited potential for onshore wind power, but there are options offshore that could generate a substantial amount of energy in one project, she said.
The forum was the third held along the S.C. coast organized by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the S.C. Energy Office through a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Elizabeth Kress, a principal engineer with Santee Cooper's Conservation and Renewable Energy Group, said it just makes sense to study offshore wind energy because it is a way to generate a lot of renewable power.
Wind maps and buoy studies have looked promising, she said, showing that from Georgetown along the coast up to the N.C. border there are class 6 winds, which could generate significant wind energy, fairly close to the coast.
The area also has an edge over other coastal regions because the water remains shallow far out into the ocean, which would allow for the use of existing technology.
"That's our retail and distribution area, so Santee Cooper is going to be involved in offshore wind whether it is us to develop it or someone else comes in to do the project," Kress said.
The next step for the company would be to put up an anemometer station to measure wind at the actual hub height of a wind turbine, Kress said. The design is under way for the project, which is projected to cost about $3.5 million and is critical to future development of offshore wind energy.
"We're doing slow, deliberate studies to make sure we're doing the right steps," she said.
There are still some challenges ahead, she said, chief among them being the costs of the anemometer study and of wind energy itself, which will cost between 12 and 16 cents per kilowatt-hour - about twice the 6 or 7 cents it costs Santee Cooper to generate conventional power.
There are also many additional studies that need to be completed, and permitting has to be researched because turbines like this have not been built off U.S. coasts before.
Jeffrey Fuchs, the program manager for Developing Markets, Offshore Wind at General Electric, a major producer of wind turbines, said Santee Cooper's research is important so the challenges and risks can be evaluated and planned for.
"One thing you don't want is a turbine that falls into the water or a failed project ... because that's just going to put the brakes on the industry," he said. "I think it's important to have a project but also to do it right."
GE continues to research and refine turbines that will function well offshore, Fuchs said. It has worked through problems and learned through mistakes at an offshore wind project off the coast of Ireland that the company owns.
Europe has largely led the way in offshore wind energy, and Fuchs said it was mainly as a result of policies put into place by governments.
"It's all about policy, and if there is policy to support offshore wind in South Carolina, the industry will come here," he said.
The industry is young in the United States so if South Carolina becomes a major player, there is the potential for significant job creation, said Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, the director of business development for Clemson University's Restoration Institute and the director of sales and marketing for the university's new wind turbine drive train test facility.
"Jobs, jobs, jobs and sustainability. That is what will happen if this industry grows," she said.
The goal of the forum was to educate the public.
That's also why the wind turbine was installed Tuesday at Oceanfront Park on Ocean Boulevard in the Cherry Grove section of North Myrtle Beach next to the Towers on the Grove at 22nd Avenue North. It's part of Santee Cooper's Wind Energy Project.
The turbine begins creating electricity when winds reach 8 mph, and produces its full capacity when the wind hits 29 mph. When producing its full amount of energy, the turbine generates enough power to run a typical refrigerator.
Marc Tye, Santee Cooper's vice president of conservation and renewable energy, said the purpose of the turbine is more than how much power it will generate.
"We view this as a symbol of how far we've come," he said. "This is just the next small step."
The installation of the turbine and the forum took place at the same time as top wind energy experts from throughout the United States and other countries gathered at the Avista Resort in North Myrtle Beach for the Southern Wind Conference.
The conference brings together those experts to discuss the potential for offshore wind energy and to create connections, said Mary Ann Christopher, a lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP, chairwoman of the Southern Wind Conference.
"You get people together like this and it kind of injects a certain momentum into the process," she said. When people are meeting, talking, they may start forming the type of business relationships that could lead to large-scale development."
North Myrtle Beach is hoping that hosting the conference and being the site of Santee Cooper's first wind turbine in the state will lead to energy development in the area, said Mayor Marilyn Hatley.
"It's not only alternative energy but it could also could also bring many jobs to the area," she said.
Hatley said that while this is the first wind turbine, she doesn't expect it to be the last.
"I think it just shows that the city of North Myrtle Beach is forward-thinking. Looking forward to meet the needs of energy for our city," she said.
(taken from TheSunNews.com