That stir in the air this week is coming from a little engine that just might could.
The second Southeastern Coastal Wind Conference will take place in Charleston on Wednesday and Thursday, a coalition of wind-power proponents who organized last year to help move the industry forward by working on a regional level from Virginia to Florida.
They are expected to bring a high level of energy with them, excusing the pun from Brian O’Hara, the coalition president.
“We’re seeing real progress in the Southeast. In the long term, the region has a major role to play,” O’Hara said.
Offshore winds in the Southeast generally have been considered marginal to produce electric power cost-effectively, but the technology and economic winds seem to be changing.
The industry already has a significant economic footprint onshore. For instance, General Electric builds wind equipment Upstate. The conference’s participants will tour the Clemson University Restoration Institute here, a $45-million-plus project of federal and other funding to test new equipment.
Meanwhile, prospects are improving for generating wind energy here:
A Virginia power company just bought the first competitive lease in the region for an offshore wind farm and will develop equipment for it.
Advances in turbine rotors are making the region more and more viable.
Wind power accounted for nearly half the new equipment built in 2012 to produce new electrical capacity in the country, according to a federal study.
The South Carolina offshore does have potential, said Guy Chapman, alternative energy generation director for Dominion Virginia Power, the Virginia utility that won the offshore lease.
“The winds are less (off South Carolina), but not that much less,” he said.
Dominion bought the lease to a massive offshore area for $1.2 million. The “hurricane-proof” turbine technology it hopes to develop would be valuable across the region.
It’s not a short-term project; the turbines wouldn’t be expected to starting turning sooner than 2023.
Offshore wind power can’t yet be produced competitively against other forms of energy production, Chapman said. He considers the power source one of a “basket of options” the company is developing for the long term, with fossil fuel power becoming more restricted and potentially more expensive. Chapman will be part of a utilities panel at the conference.
The Dominion lease “sets a precedent and a process for North Carolina, South Carolina and potentially Georgia to follow in the months and years to come,” said Hamilton Davis, of the Coastal Conservation League, a Charleston-based environmental advocate. Davis will be a moderator at the conference.
“We certainly don’t have the land-based (wind) potential that has proven successful in other areas of the country,” But technology advances in offshore wind power mean “South Carolina has an opportunity to part of that.”
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