For most of the past decade (8.5 years to be exact), America has been talking about developing her first offshore wind farm. With all eyes turned towards New England, we have witnessed a high-profile, public, all out Not-In-My-Backyard brawl.
The brawl that spanned the entire Bush administration recently took another black eye on January 4, 2010 when the National Park Service (NPS) declared, in an unprecedented fashion, the Nantucket Sound eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Just as soon as the punch landed, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced that NPS and Cape Wind developers had until March 1st to work out a compromise, otherwise the federal government would step in and ensure that a “defensible” decision was made by the end of April.
Keep in mind, the Cape Wind debate spilled over into the entire U.S. offshore wind industry, requiring the development of a long rulemaking process for the Mineral Management Service which prevents the quick deployment of instrumentation to measure wind and wave temperatures for the study of other potential wind farms. It’s boiled down to a March 1, 2010 deadline where Secretary Salzaar is fully prepared to step in and issue a final verdict on the Cape Wind project, perhaps allowing for the project to finally move forward.
If there was a silver lining in this looming dark cloud, it is that other projects have been able to learn from Cape Wind and the European industry in the meantime. Regionally, the state of South Carolina has recently released a report on recommendations to the SC General Assembly to advance the deployment of offshore wind energy in South Carolina, citing job development, energy diversity, and domestic energy supply as advantages of offshore wind.
It may also help that Clemson University just landed a $98 million Department of Energy grant to construct a facility to test the very large drivetrain systems that may be used in future wind turbine design. These large wind turbine drivetrain systems will likely be tailored towards the vast offshore wind market along the East Coast.
To manage and direct this project, Clemson University tapped long-time South Carolina wind energy expert and pioneer, Dr. Nicholas Rigas. Dr. Rigas will not only oversee the construction and operation of the facility, but will also work to lure the attention of the wind industry to the South Carolina wind market, including supply chain opportunities associated with the drive train test facility. This work is also expected to spur attention to the region, for example at the American Wind Energy Association’s Supply Chain Workshop on March 17th in Greensboro, NC.
For the Southeast, the offshore wind industry represents nothing short of an economic boom during these economic hard times. As the entire offshore industry watches New England for a signal on the future, leave no doubt that our region’s top leaders should be thinking dollars, jobs, and energy security and planning to take advantage of the lessons learned over the last decade from Cape Wind.