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Environment: Utility sees 11,000 jobs in wind energy development
By Jackie R. Broach
Construction of a wind farm off the coast of South Carolina would be a step in the right direction for the environment, but it could also mean big things for the state’s economy.
“We estimate as many as 11,000 jobs could be created in South Carolina if we become a hub of green [wind] energy,” said John Clark, director of the South Carolina Energy Office.
That would open up the “green-collar” job market, creating a need for environmental engineers and other such professionals, but also for iron and steel mill workers, sheet metal workers and industrial truck drivers, among others.
A wind farm might also allow South Carolina to hold on to some of the $20 billion the state spends on coal every year, according to Clark.
“When we think of green power, we think of the environmental benefits, but we also need to think of the economic benefits,” he said. “There is a lot of potential here.”
The energy office is partnering with state-owned utility Santee Cooper and Coastal Carolina University to study the potential of using offshore winds to create energy. Officials announced the 18-month study Monday in Georgetown.
Carter said winds on land in South Carolina aren’t strong enough to be used for generation of electricity, but offshore winds are a likely possibility.
“No power company in America is generating offshore wind energy, and very few are exploring its viability,” said Lonnie Carter, president and CEO of Santee Cooper. With this study, “South Carolina is positioning itself at the front of the offshore wind research pack.”
Six weather buoys will be launched off the coast of Georgetown at Winyah Bay and Little River at Waites Island this month and, along with two land-based stations, will measure wind speed, direction and frequency at stations up to six miles out into the ocean.
Data will be collected for a year and Coastal Carolina University researchers, working closely with counterparts at North Carolina State University, will evaluate the buoy data to help pinpoint the best location for an offshore platform Santee Cooper will install in about six months. The platform will measure upper-level winds more similar to those a wind turbine would encounter.
Carter described the race to become the first state to construct an offshore wind farm as a marathon, opposed to a sprint. There’s still much that would have to be done before offshore wind generation could be put into practice.
“Even if South Carolina learns tomorrow it can generate 1,000 megawatts, it couldn’t build a turbine now,” he explained.
There are no regulations in place for offshore wind generation and studies need to be conducted on the environmental impacts of wind turbines.
Cost is another factor, he said. The necessary machinery is expensive to build and to maintain in harsh ocean conditions.
Wind energy is “at least twice as expensive” as traditional energy, Carter said, but Santee Cooper believes “all reasonable renewable energy initiatives” must be explored.
“Santee Cooper is the only public power company that is working alongside leading state scientists to prove the viability of offshore wind as a source of electrical generation and this project falls squarely in line with our goal to provide 40 percent of our energy by 2020 through non-greenhouse gas emitting resources, biomass fuels, conservation and energy efficiency,” Carter said.
The public will be involved in any progress made on the offshore wind initiative, he promised.