Myrtle Beach Tests Wind Power

A forum organized by the South Carolina Energy Office and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy brought wind industry experts to the South Carolina coast to discuss the potential for generating wind power in the area. The forum focused on offshore wind technology as well as how the economy would benefit from bringing the alternative energy industry to South Carolina.

Santee Cooper’s Conservation and Renewable Energy Group raised a 30-foot turbine in Myrtle Beach as a demonstration project for the forum. When winds hit 8 miles per hour, the turbine begins generating electricity. At 29 miles per hour, the turbine reaches full capacity and generates enough electricity to power an average household refrigerator. The turbine helps educate the public on wind energy generation, and boosts interest and support for the young industry.

Elizabeth Kress, an engineer with the group said buoy studies and wind maps from the area show great potential for wind generation. Another benefit of the Carolina coastline is the relative shallowness of the water, which would allow for the use of existing technology. Kress said her company would “be involved in offshore wind whether it is us to develop it or someone else comes in to do the project.”

The company is doing several studies and investing $3.5 million to install an anemometer station to accurately measure wind at the height of a turbine. Financing remains the biggest challenge to implementing the new technology. Wind energy costs Santee Cooper 12 to 16 cents per kilowatt-hour, double the cost of generating conventional power.  The research required is slow and tedious, but essential for long-term success.

Jeffrey Fuchs, a program manager for Offshore Wind at General Electric explained the necessity of Santee Cooper’s investment. “One thing you don’t want is a turbine that falls into the water or a failed project,” Fuchs said. Mistakes could bring the whole industry down. General Electric is conducting its own research at an offshore wind project in Ireland. Fuchs noted that government policy is important for wind energy development. “If there is policy to support offshore wind in South Carolina, the industry will come here,” he said.

Bringing new industry is as important in terms of job creation as it is for power generation. The forum and turbine installation were held at the same time as the Southern Wind Conference in North Myrtle Beach. Mayor Marilyn Hatley saw the Conference as a great opportunity for industry leaders and locals to form “business relationships that could lead to large-scale development.”  She hopes the new turbine is just the beginning of a new alternative energy movement that could “also bring many jobs to the area.”