Area gets wind of a powerful idea

Charleston Post and Courier
Allyson Bird
April 17, 2009

As South Carolina tests the waters for an offshore wind farm, an expert from the United Kingdom addressed Charleston maritime leaders Thursday with a strong message: “This has got to happen, and it’s going to happen.”

The U.S. needs new energy sources, and this one will create jobs, said Nick Longfield, managing director of Ocean Marine Services Ltd. in Wales. In the U.K. and Europe at large, forerunners in the wind-farm movement, the offshore turbines boosted the maritime industry, he said.

The Clemson University Restoration Institute, a partner in the state’s offshore wind-farm program, helped bring Longfield to the Charleston Propeller Club with a message that South Carolina could lead the country in developing renewable energy.

Liz Kress, principal engineer in Santee Cooper’s renewables department, said Palmetto Wind, the proposed farm off the coast of Georgetown and Little River, remains five to 10 years in the future.

Right now, Kress explained, Santee Cooper and its partners are conducting studies to measure wind speed and writing regulations, thanks to a U.S. Energy Department grant.

Six months from now, the project should have a wind-speed measuring station, called an anemometer, set up about 220 feet in the air, or the height of a turbine, she said. Kress estimates South Carolina’s first wind farm could cost as much as $160 million for an 80-megawatt operation. It’s too early to evaluate the economic benefits or pitfalls of bringing wind energy to the state.

The Energy Department estimates one-fifth of power in the U.S. will come from coastal or offshore wind farms by 2030. Longfield listed benefits of the projects, beyond cleaner and more-predictable energy.

Though they leave an unmistakable visual mark, they cause minimal disruption to the community, he said.

The farms create local jobs and, because they’re so new, provide opportunities for states to lead the movement nationally.

The turbines develop a new ecosystem, and fish populate around them. People, too, begin to think more about the environment when they see the turbines.

“You start to identify with projects, and you become part of the green movement,” Longfield said.

One question he couldn’t answer from the Charleston meeting: What about hurricanes?

“We don’t know what effect a very dynamic wind would have on turbines,” Longfield said. “That’s something that you guys are going to have to teach us, I think.”

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