Wind power is a clean, low-cost energy resource that can help reduce impacts of climate change. Wind energy also ensures clean air and water, protecting our public health and natural resources. Thanks to improved wind turbine technology, we can now collect wind resources more efficiently than before by using taller turbines with longer blades that can reach better wind speeds. Furthermore, the price of wind has dropped in recent years and is now at an all-time low –the average price for installed wind capacity went down by more than 60 percent in only five years. In fact, many wind power contracts are now cheaper for utilities than generating electricity using natural gas!
Many Southeastern utilities take advantage of wind power, but SACE is pushing them to add more. Gulf Power, a Southern Company subsidiary, is the leading purchaser of wind energy in Florida. With approval from the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) to add 94 megawatts (MW) of wind energy from the Kingfisher Wind farm in Oklahoma, Gulf Power is projected to obtain nine percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources. Meanwhile, Georgia Power’s finalized 2016 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) provides for the addition of 1,600 MW of renewable energy resources, including more wind power, to its portfolio. SACE experts testified in Georgia Power’s IRP hearings, offering evidence that the utility could grow its renewable energy portfolio to at least 2,000 MW without increasing rates. This was a major step up from the utility’s original proposal to add a mere 525 MW!
Finally, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is gathering information on adding more renewable energy resources – including up to 1,750 MW of wind – by 2033. Southeastern utilities like TVA should soon be able to take advantage of a unique project that will bring more wind power to the region. The Plains and Eastern Clean Line high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission project was approved by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2016. In March, SACE formally endorsed the Plains and Eastern Clean Line project after it received a glowing environmental review. The Clean Line project will bring up to 4,000 MW of wind energy resources from Oklahoma to electrical converter stations located near Memphis, Tennessee and in northern Arkansas. SACE has researched this project over the past five years and is deeply engaged with TVA and solar developers to ensure the robust addition of renewables to TVA’s energy mix.
Currently, there are only two wind farms that are actually located in the Southeast. The Buffalo Mountain wind farm near Oliver Springs, Tennessee (pictured to the right), constructed in 2004, has a total capacity of 27 MW. A considerably larger wind farm, recently renamed “Amazon Wind Farm US East,” is underway near Elizabeth City, North Carolina. This 102-turbine project will have a total capacity of 208 MW (enough to power 61,000 homes). Amazon will use energy from this wind farm, previously called the Desert Winds wind farm project, to help power its data centers.
Despite having a 25 -year history in Europe, offshore wind in the Southeast, and across the country, is still in the early stages of development. In fact, the nation’s very first wind farm just finished construction this summer off the coast of Rhode Island! While offshore wind is a great resource, the process of planning an offshore wind farm is exceptionally complex. Nevertheless, our region is diving into offshore wind. In Georgia, research has just begun to identify some of the best locations for turbines. The Georgia Coastal Marine Planner (GCAMP), a marine planning application created by Georgia Tech and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources that provides online access to data regarding coastal and ocean resources, recently received a five-year grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Meanwhile, North and South Carolina have pushed through some of the red tape in the offshore wind planning process and are a bit further along. In late 2015, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced the identification of tentative offshore wind energy areas in South Carolina– an initial step that will eventually lead to leasing these areas to developers, who will then have the ability to construct and operate wind farms. North Carolina has identified the areas for offshore wind development and announced its first offshore wind lease sale in summer 2016. These milestones for eventual offshore wind development came after years of discussion among stakeholders about where to site potential offshore wind farms in the Carolinas, as well as longtime advocacy by SACE and our partners.
There are clearly many exciting developments when it comes to wind energy in the Southeast. Thanks to technological advances, wind is now cheaper than ever, making it a crucial investment for utilities seeking to diversify their energy mix. SACE remains at the forefront of this fight, offering our unique technical expertise as we engage with utility leadership and work with stakeholders to bring more of this low-cost renewable energy resource to our region.