Transforming energy lifts S.C. economy with a mighty wind


A new report, produced in collaboration by the Clemson University Restoration Institute, Strom Thurmond Institute and the South Carolina Energy Office, reveals the wind energy industry’s substantial impacts on South Carolina’s economy. In addition to a detailed look at the wind energy firms currently operating in South Carolina, this study examines the potential impacts on our economy if we were to install one gigawatt of offshore wind energy (enough to power approximately 225,000 homes).

Clemson’s report confirms that offshore wind is one of the biggest business opportunities for South Carolina and yet also serves as a reminder of what is at stake if our public officials don’t go to bat for our homegrown industries.

As the Clemson study reports, South Carolina currently boasts a robust wind energy industry in which 33 businesses employ 1,134 S.C. workers in high-quality jobs. Since these jobs pay well, in fact even more than comparable jobs in other industries, the employees’ investment in the local economy results in the support of 1,797 additional indirect and induced jobs. The industry is estimated to contribute $530 million in total output in 2012 within South Carolina’s borders.

Furthermore, the study suggests we can actually expect the industry’s impact to grow in the years to come. Eighty-four percent of firms identified in the census reported that they are planning on increasing capital investment in the state over the next one to five years or keep their level of investment steady, while just four percent foresee reducing investment. A whopping ninety-five percent of firms indicated that they are planning on increasing or at least maintaining their number of employees and their products or services offered.

Recently relocated companies, such as Nexans cable company, which moved to Berkeley County this year, and IMO Group, which came to Summerville in 2010, prove that South Carolina is an attractive place to locate wind energy facilities. They also show that we may see even more development in coming years.

It’s no wonder that the major local economic development organization, the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, has identified wind energy as one of the region’s four greatest opportunity industries.

While wind energy is a winner for South Carolina in general, Charleston is the logical hub for the industry because of Clemson University’s wind turbine testing facility, our world-class port capabilities and huge offshore wind resources. Clemson’s Wind Turbine Drivetrain Testing Facility on the old Navy Base, slated to open before the end of the year, will be the most advanced testing site of its type in the world and a global hotbed of renewable energy technology innovation.

It is logical to expect that businesses will locate manufacturing and service facilities here specifically because Clemson’s research center will serve as an anchor for the industry cluster. Furthermore, we have a world-class port that can export renewable energy technology along the Atlantic Seaboard as well as to Europe and Asia, where renewable energy markets are booming.

Something to keep in mind is that all of these positive impacts are despite the fact that we don’t even have any large-scale wind farms installed in South Carolina yet. All of these jobs are supporting installations elsewhere in North America or internationally.

What if we could create markets for our workers right here in the Palmetto State? It’s not as if we don’t have the wind to harness. In fact, we have the second largest offshore wind resource on the East Coast — enough to produce more power than the state uses in a year.

Lucky for us, Clemson took out the guesswork and provided detailed analysis of what economic impact South Carolina might see from the development of one gigawatt of offshore wind energy.

The report indicates that the development of a one gigawatt offshore wind farm would support an average of 3,879 in-state jobs, annually contribute $366 million in output and $61.6 million in local and state government revenue.

South Carolina’s wind resource, however, is much greater than the one GW examined by the study and could potentially support many more jobs.

If robust transmission or storage infrastructure were developed, South Carolina could translate its offshore wind resource into a commodity and be a power exporter.

Offshore wind energy is a no-brainer for South Carolina.

Developing offshore wind would create jobs, increase revenue, establish our state as a pioneer in an emerging industry, diversify our energy portfolio and allow us to harness energy that is pollution free and doesn’t waste precious water resources. In short, it’s a win for people, planet and prosperity.

Sadly, on the same day Clemson’s report highlighted the wind industry’s massive contributions to and opportunities in South Carolina, Kaydon Corp announced that it will close its ball-bearing manufacturing facility in Sumter due to Congress’ lack of action in renewing supportive policies such as the Production Tax Credit (PTC).

Unless we want this to be the first of many such closures, let it be a reminder to our public officials that we need supportive public policy to realize the full potential of our great state’s energy economy.

The opportunity presented by offshore wind energy is too great to take a pass on.

Chris Carnevale is coastal climate and energy coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.