Intelligent Energy

Offshore wind farms to head south?

Posting in Energy

Just one grid-connected wind turbine spins in South Carolina. But this Deep South state is eyeing the deep for a renewable energy future.

South Carolina connected its first wind turbine to the grid last November. The 2.4-kilowatt turbine is a skinny thing, standing alone while harnessing winds that blow onto North Myrtle Beach. But the seaside spinner might beckon much larger turbines to the state, ones weighing tons and standing hundreds of feet high.

That's right, South Carolina has its eye on offshore wind farms.

The first turbines off the East Coast will likely whir further north, with New England's Cape Wind project. But a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, that details the offshore wind resources of coastal states, has sparked collaboration between North and South Carolina around developing energy projects in their corner of the Atlantic.

The 2010 report listed the total potential offshore wind capacity for both Carolinas at nearly 430,000 megawatts. Importantly, 104,317 of those megawatts represent locations in shallow waters that are 12 nautical miles or more from the shoreline. To the wind industry, shallow means depths less than about 100 feet. Deep wind farms would mean even steeper price tags. In this respect, North and South Carolina have fortunate geology off their coasts. The continental shelf slopes gradually, often remaining shallow for miles out to sea. This means people on land are less likely to have turbines obstruct their scenic views —an issue that embattled Massachusetts' Cape Wind for years.

Whether far out in shallow waters or not, the wind farms would need transmission lines to bring their electricity to shore. In April, the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) requested the right-of-way to construct a network of transmission lines for 7,000 megawatts of offshore power generation for mid-Atlantic states. As of now, this proposed transmission backbone ends in Virginia.

So turbines along the South Carolina coast are still a long way off. In the meantime, the state's single beached turbine will continue supplying data to the Palmetto Wind Research Project (along with buoys and incoming anemometer towers). And its coal-burning power plants will continue to generate between 500 and 700 megawatts, The State reports, with coal imported from Virginia and West Virginia.

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Images: Wikipedia Commons, Flickr/Vattenfall, NOAA, NREL

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure