Editorial

Editorial | Answer to boosting jobs on Grand Strand may be blowing in the wind

June 14, 2013 

A small wind turbine is near the public access area just south of Main Street in North Myrtle Beach.

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A legislative resolution in support of the state's wind industry is one more encouraging step forward in the efforts of North Myrtle Beach to draw the nascent renewable energy jobs to the state's coast.

The resolution by Little River Sen. Greg Hembree, reported early this month by The Sun News' Steve Jones, recognizes the many accomplishments the state has already made in the field. They include the 1,100 S.C. jobs that already exist in manufacturing wind turbines and their components, as well as – most importantly to the Grand Strand – the many efforts undertaken in recent years by the political and business leaders of North Myrtle Beach.

On its face, adoption of the resolution would mean little actual change in South Carolina. It recognizes victories already won and in itself compels no more specific movement forward, contenting itself with noting out previous accomplishments and offering a general encouragement for more development of the industry. In other words, the resolution's passage would mean no immediate change to the state's energy policy or to its coffers.

But its importance lies not in any deliberate action. Instead, the resolution, like others before it, would do the important work of raising awareness of an opportunity some state leaders may not be familiar with. That improved awareness can in turn lay the groundwork for more substantive changes in the future and can lead to conversations that create new opportunities for the area.

How important is that awareness? And how important could the industry be to the area? The answer is unclear, but could be at least partly answered by national numbers. Wind power has been the fastest-growing source of new power generation for several years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. As a result, the nation's power producers, the EIA says, plan to add more megawatts of wind power than coal power in the coming years.

Granted, offshore wind power, which North Myrtle Beach leaders are promoting, is a different animal than the more popular and established land-based wind turbines, requiring more expense to install, to service and to deliver power back to the grid. And wind-power promoters are still searching for the best way to offset those higher costs, in many cases relying on state or federal incentives to help make up the difference. As the American Wind Energy Association diplomatically puts it: “Offshore wind projects must strike a viable balance between technological and economic challenges.”

State incentives for constructing wind farms aren't out of the question, and they could offer a good way to jump-start work on the North Strand, but Hembree was resolute that his support for committing state money would only follow strong evidence that the move would be a smart investment for the state.

That's fine, says Marc Jordan, CEO of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. Jordan said Thursday that his organization is committed to the completion of an economic impact study that examines in detail how an emerging offshore wind industry could help the area.

“We're committed to doing one,” Jordan said. “It's probably just not the time yet.”

Movement in state government and the wind industry is slow, Jordan said, and any realistic chance of creating state incentives is still likely years away. With that in mind, he doesn't want a study with data that's out of date when the real debate occurs.

Jordan is wise, and his strategy is sound, but there's also a chance things could move faster than he thinks. The feds just announced this month the first auction of leases for wind farms off the East Coast, near Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Auctions off the Carolinas are likely not far behind. And South Carolina's brewing governor's race will have multiple leaders vying to show their ability to bring new jobs to the state. The opportunity to boost the area's wind industry could be here faster than expected.

Wind energy continues to be a strong contender for providing a new generation of jobs in the northeast corner of Horry County. Much of that is due to the foresight and hard work of the North Myrtle Beach leaders who have positioned themselves to take advantage of the growing industry. The latest steps are good ones, and they continue that important work. There are many steps yet to come, but we're confident that North Strand leaders won't waver in their quest to be at the forefront of this industry in South Carolina.

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