Developing wind energy offshore South Carolina’s coast will be a long and complicated project that could take as long as a decade, but if no private investors come forward to pay for the effort the entire process would be dead in the water.
That’s according to Brian Krevor, environmental protection specialist for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Krevor and nearly a dozen federal employees participated in a hearing Wednesday night in Murrells Inlet to explain to Grand Strand residents how the bureaucratic process will work.
“If no developer comes into the process, it just ends, but if a developer comes in and says they are interested in the Grand Strand, we go forward,” Krevor told The Sun News prior to the hearing.
There are no offshore wind facilities operating in federally controlled waters, however one operation near Massachusetts has a permit to move forward.
Four areas of interest are under examination for potential development off South Carolina’s shore. The largest is the Grand Strand region, which stretches about 885 nautical square miles.
Krevor said if there is strong interest in developing the Grand Strand region, this area would likely be broken up into several leases for more than one wind energy development. If the interest is strong, developers might have to compete for the leases at auction.
Many of the residents who attended the hearing had questions about the environmental impact of developing wind energy as well as the operating platforms and its affects on wildlife.
“The talk of bird fatalities is way overblown,” said Ian McLaren of Litchfield.
Another local said federal officials should better educate the public that cats are responsible for more bird deaths than onshore wind turbines.
Lee Hewitt with Garden City Reality was at the hearing to represent the concerns of 400 of their vacation homeowners.
“It could impact them and our business and the whole Grand Strand,” said Hewitt, who expressed concerns about the turbines’ proximity to Huntington State Park, which includes a bird sanctuary.
Residents seemed more concerned about ill effects on aquatic wildlife from seismic testing. According to Krevor, such exploration is “not as intense” as what is used to develop oil and gas.
Residents asked about the visibility of the turbines, which would be constructed 10 miles offshore.
Theoretically, Krevor said, the structures and lights can be seen onshore when built as far out as 24 nautical miles, however several factors can blur the turbines, including hazy and humid summer days.
The hearings are part of the 60-day comment period set in motion by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management after the potential leases were announced Nov. 23 along four South Carolina Outer Continental Shelf sites, including the Grand Strand, Cape Romain, Winyah and Charleston.
The federal agency is preparing to conduct studies to determine whether 1,200 nautical square miles of ocean off South Carolina’s coast should be leased for development. This public comment period is open until Jan. 25, and another meeting is scheduled for Thursday night from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. at Boulineau’s in North Myrtle Beach.
Hudson can be reached at 843-444-1765