Prevailing Winds: Building Momentum Offshore

With 1-5 GW of offshore wind capacity, South Carolina is poised to become a key part of efforts to catalyze offshore wind energy, strengthen the domestic supply chain, and create jobs.

Guest Blog | September 27, 2022 | South Carolina, Wind

The following article, originally published in the Coastal Heritage Magazine Spring 2022 edition and re-posted partially here with permission from S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, includes insights from Chris Carnevale, SACE’s Climate Advocacy Director. Read the original article in full.

The swift winds that beachgoers and boaters alike have come to know well could soon power hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in South Carolina. Giant turbines spinning at several wind farms, each situated 10 or more miles from the coast, would harness the wind’s energy before sending it to land via high voltage cables buried in the seafloor. This electricity would be channeled through coastal load centers that prioritize where the electricity should go, distributing it into the electrical grid of population centers. It’s a vision that could be on the horizon for South Carolina.

Driven by a combination of factors, from new federal energy goals to a burgeoning wind-energy manufacturing presence in the state, a decade-old effort to plan for offshore wind in the Palmetto State is finally gaining momentum. “The winds are picking up,” says Sara Bazemore, director of the South Carolina Energy Office.

Advanced planning for a project at the South Carolina and North Carolina border could begin this year. Lease bids were recently submitted for the project, called “Carolina Long Bay,” situated in federal waters just north of the border between the Carolinas and adjacent to the Myrtle Beach, S.C., area. Spanning a 127,865- acre swath of ocean, the wind farm has the potential to unlock more than 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy and power more than 500,000 homes. Furthermore, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the agency that oversees wind-energy development in federal waters, has also identified four South Carolina wind energy call areas—vast expanses of continental shelf ripe for potential wind energy in the state.

Experts say it will be some time before wind turbines are in the waters turning, and various projects and alternatives would each face different obstacles. But in general, offshore wind energy off the coast of South Carolina is more feasible than ever before…

In the U.S., only a handful of commercial-scale turbines are spinning in the waters (in projects off Rhode Island and Virginia) but that could be set to rapidly change. Last spring, the current federal administration sparked the beginning of what many see as an offshore-wind boom on the Eastern Seaboard when officials announced bold efforts to sharply increase offshore wind energy along America’s shores. The administration has made ocean wind farms a centerpiece of its clean-energy agenda, and in January 2022, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland declared the country was “at an inflection point for offshore wind energy development.” The administration has announced a goal to deploy a total of 30 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030 in a major shift to clean energy that White House officials say will catalyze offshore wind energy, strengthen the domestic supply chain, and create good-paying, high-tech jobs. With an estimated 1-to-5 GW of offshore wind capacity, South Carolina is poised to become a key part of that effort.

In August 2021, a group of stakeholders attending a South Carolina Energy Office webinar on wind energy indicated they would like South Carolina to consider joining a recently formed multi-state partnership to promote, develop, and expand offshore wind energy. North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland established the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Transformative Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Resources (known as SMART-POWER). The addition of South Carolina to the interstate partnership would signal a big focus on bringing offshore wind energy developments and associated economic development to the Palmetto State.

From North Myrtle Beach to Charleston, clean energy advocates and a growing number of coastal officials and business leaders are promoting offshore wind as a means to lower carbon emissions, bring high-tech jobs, and improve public health.

The cities of North Myrtle Beach and Charleston have passed resolutions supporting offshore wind. The city of North Myrtle Beach officially became a “wind-powered economic zone” by proclamation of a City Council resolution, and officials hope to be able to provide the equivalent of 100 percent of its power usage from wind energy in the near future. In 2013, the Charleston City Council approved its resolution in support of offshore wind energy development. The resolution points to several potential benefits of offshore wind energy development, including long-term, well-paying jobs for the community, a new source of clean and renewable energy, and an in-state investment in energy infrastructure.

Several manufacturing companies that produce components for offshore wind are already established in the Charleston region, and could play a key role in quickly establishing a supply chain for potential projects as they are approved. Furthermore, General Electric’s facility in Greenville, S.C., serves as the company’s design center for its wind engineering team. South Carolina would have a good chance at attracting other companies as well that manufacture, assemble, install, or service wind turbines, blades, and wind-turbine foundations.

“There has been tremendous momentum nationally in the U.S. offshore arena, and that has re-energized the efforts to realize the benefits and opportunities mapped out for South Carolina for more than a decade,” says Paul Gayes, director of Coastal Carolina University’s Burroughs & Chapin Center for Marine and Wetland Studies and a professor of marine science who studies wind energy.

Supporters of offshore wind energy say it is a valuable supplement to South Carolina’s energy portfolio and represents a huge potential source of clean, renewable electricity. Offshore wind has become a more attractive energy option in the wake of the unsuccessful effort to build two new nuclear reactors in the lower Piedmont, as part of an expansion of the V.C. Summer power plant.

“Nuclear power is low carbon,” Gayes says. But building a nuclear reactor can bring other complex issues, he adds, and any new nuclear projects specifically in South Carolina are highly unlikely over the next decade, following the demise of the V.C. Summer project.

That leaves gas-powered or coal-powered energy plants as the main options for energy in the near future—unless clean energy sources are considered.

“There is a search for how to replace the future capacity production that was planned to be provided by the failed nuclear plant,” Gayes says.

Offshore wind generation could provide some of that future capacity. “Offshore wind energy makes a lot of sense for South Carolinians in that it can serve as a key component of achieving a carbon-free electricity system that would reliably meet our power needs, reduce pollution, protect people’s health, grow the economy, and conserve our environment,” says Chris Carnevale, Climate Advocacy director at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

“Offshore wind energy makes a lot of sense for South Carolinians in that it can serve as a key component of achieving a carbon-free electricity system that would reliably meet our power needs, reduce pollution, protect people’s health, grow the economy, and conserve our environment.”

In addition, offshore wind energy greatly reduces water consumption compared to conventional power plants, since water is not required for cooling, he says. Furthermore, wind energy costs have fallen significantly—decreasing 70 percent over the last decade alone.

“The proposition of offshore wind development is perhaps even more attractive now than when our state first started discussing offshore wind more than a decade ago,” Carnevale says. “Costs are coming down, technology is advancing, and there is a growing public understanding of the need to achieve a clean electricity system.”

Perhaps most importantly, the state is in a prime position, geographically, for offshore wind energy development.

A Viable Resource

On the Eastern Seaboard, South Carolina has the second largest overall offshore-wind resource, behind North Carolina, according to a recent analysis by the conservation group Oceana. The study found that the Carolinas offer the largest potential economically recoverable wind resources.

The conditions off the South Carolina coast are prime for offshore wind. “There’s good wind and good seafloor for offshore wind,” says Meredyth Crichton, executive director of Clemson University’s Dominion Energy Innovation Center, in North Charleston, S.C. “The waters tend to be pretty shallow for a long distance on the [continental] shelf, and wind in that area is very good for offshore—consistent wind speed.”

In addition, Crichton adds that potential offshore wind areas are near outstanding port facilities such as the Port of Charleston, providing possible facilities for manufacturers as well as maintenance crews to efficiently operate.

“In New England, the water depth increases pretty quickly,” says Simon Mahan, executive director for the Southern Renewable Energy Association. “The Southern Bight stays shallow out pretty far,” Mahan adds, describing the area formally known as the South Atlantic Bight, the continental shelf that extends from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to West Palm Beach, Florida. There is, in addition, ample offshore space, Mahan explains, for potential wind development that does not interfere with commercial fishing and shipping traffic.

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