Don’t hold your breath waiting for wind power off the Georgia coast.
Georgia Tech and Southern Co. have been looking into a possible wind project, but increasing costs for the turbines along with a stalled regulatory process make it an unlikely prospect for the near future, said William Bulpitt, senior research engineer with Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Initiative.
“The main stumbling block is economics,” he said. “The price of steel and copper have gone up dramatically.”
Also driving up the cost of offshore wind projects is demand for the giant wind turbines, which can stand taller than the length of a football field. Only three companies worldwide make them and orders are backed up to 2008, said Bulpitt.
Georgia Tech announced the possibility of an offshore wind project last year after research indicated the wind off Georgia’s coast is better than previously believed. Within 30 miles of the shoreline are winds rated 4 and 5 on the seven-point wind classification scale.
Initial plans called for three to five turbines, which would produce enough energy to power about 2,500 homes. There were even hopes the Tech project could be the first offshore wind facility in the United States.
Last year, Tech entered into an agreement with Southern Co. to complete a feasibility study, which will be finished by the end of the year.
“We learned that there are a lot of hurdles,” said Liz Philpot, principal research engineer at Southern Co.
Among those obstacles are the likelihood of hurricanes, the frequency of lightning and conditions favorable for corrosion of the turbines.
And then there’s regulation.
The Minerals Management Service of the federal Department of the Interior has been tasked with regulating offshore wind, but isn’t allowing the evaluation of new projects until it finishes its rulemaking process at the end of next year.
“They have brought the industry to a two-year moratorium,” Bulpitt said.
Despite the concerns about Tech’s offshore project, researchers from the National Renewable Energy Lab were optimistic about Georgia’s wind energy prospects at a meeting Wednesday sponsored by the Georgia Wind Working Group at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.
They noted that President Bush’s Advanced Energy Initiative calls for wind to provide 20 percent of the nation’s energy by 2030. It currently provides less than 1 percent.
Georgia, with viable wind resources in the north as well as offshore, could help the country reach that goal, according to Walt Musial, leader of offshore wind energy activities at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “Georgia has a role to play, should it choose to play,” Musial said.
Policy shifts may be needed to boost wind, according to Larry Flowers, team leader for the NREL’s Wind Technology Center.
“Don’t expect utilities to lead in these matters,” he said. “They’re not paid to lead. They’re paid to make profits for their shareholders. Their responsibility is not to try new stuff and hope it works.”
By Mary Landers
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