Energy officials say the high, steady winds off S.C.'s shores could generate enough electricity to power thousands of homes.
This will be one of the talking points at tonight's public forum in Myrtle Beach, focusing on offshore wind energy in S.C. and the economic opportunities that could come with it.
"There is a wealth of energy off our coast," said Toni Reale, with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, who will moderate the forum.
A final report by the state's Wind Energy Production Farms Feasibility Study Committee estimated S.C. would need to produce 3.3 gigawatts of power to meet the national goal of having 20 percent of the country's electricity needs wind-generated by 2030. The study claims the project would result in 15,500 temporary jobs associated with wind farm production, and an additional 3,200 permanent positions needed to operate the turbines.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates there is between 1 and 5 gigawatts of electricity off the Grand Strand's coasts.
That's between 1,000 and 5,000 megawatts, Reale said, and one megawatt can power anywhere from 500 to 1,000 homes.
Findings from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a program of the Department of Energy, estimates S.C. has nearly 130,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy potential, enough to provide more than 260 percent of the state's current electricity demand.
Coal-fired power plants in S.C., which Reale said produce between 500 to 700 megawatts, are operated from product mined out of Virginia and West Virginia.
"We don't have to import the wind," she said. "It's our wind."
Right now, the capability is being tested with the state's first wind turbine, which was installed off Ocean Boulevard in North Myrtle Beach last November. Laura Varn, with Santee Cooper, said the Skystream wind turbine has been producing power about 15 percent of the time over the last three months.
"And that's fairly typical of those types of wind turbines on land," Varn said.
The Skystream is a 2.4-kilowatt turbine that begins generating electricity once wind speeds reach 8 mph, according to a Santee Cooper press release. Its full-rated capacity is produced when wind gusts are 29 mph.
Varn said the Skystream isn't close to the type of wind turbines energy officials want to see off the state's coast and is merely used as a demonstration of the wind's energy capabilities.
For one, the Skystream produces in kilowatts, a smaller energy component than the megawatt. The electricity it generates is only enough to power a refrigerator.
Then there's the size of the turbine, which stands at 30 feet. It's a far cry from the 440-foot tall windmills expected to rise from the ocean a few miles off Cape Cod, The Associated Press reported.
In April 2010, the Obama administration cleared the way for the nation's first offshore wind farm in Massachusetts after more than eight years of lawsuits and government reviews, according to The AP.
The project faced intense opposition from some residents, including the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who warned that the windmills could mar the ocean view.
Developers hoped to start generating power by late 2012, The Associated Press reported.
Varn said Santee Cooper has been trying to get additional Skystream turbines installed in other areas along the state's coast, but finding the proper geography and location as well as adhering to any restrictive municipal ordinances, has made the task daunting.
"That's part of the reality and some of the difficulties," she said.
Varn said the company is still working to get those turbines in place, but was hesitant to reveal the exact locations, though she said they would be within Horry County.
Paul Hucks, with Horry County Schools Energy Management, was quoted as supporting offshore wind energy in S.C. in the wind energy committee's report. He pointed out that "our children's children" wouldn't be able to sustain energy sources without harnessing wind or another renewable form of energy.
"We started hearing and learning about wind and solar sources when I began energy management work in 1984.
"After 25 years in the energy management field, I say full steam ahead on this excellent project," Hucks stated.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.