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Wind energy a possibility near Tybee

As the prospects for wind energy in Georgia improve, a wind advocacy group breezed into Savannah on Wednesday with meetings at the Metropolitan Planning Commission and at Oatland Island Wildlife Center.

“We’re doing this to get out there and do early education,” said Paul Wolff, a member of the Georgia Wind Working Group and also a member of the Tybee Island City Council. “We’re anticipating local planners will get requests for wind turbines.”

The requests are expected in part because a new Georgia law makes available about $2.5 million a year for the next five years for renewable energy projects, including wind turbines. Applications for the program, which puts a $10,500 cap on residential projects, are expected to be available by the end of July, said David Attaway of the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority.

The federal government is expected to issue new regulations for offshore wind farms by the end of this year.

Teresa Eldridge, a landscape architect and planner from Marietta, likened wind turbines to cell towers. Both are tall structures that could draw neighbors’ objections on aesthetic grounds. She introduced a model ordinance the Wind Working Group developed to prepare local governments for the development of wind turbines.

Wind power became a viable alternative for Georgia’s coast about three years ago, when researchers discovered a flaw in previous thinking about the breezes off Tybee.

Georgia’s offshore wind had been dismissed as inadequate because the federal Department of Energy gave it a mere 2 on its seven-point wind scale in its 1980s Wind Energy Resource Atlas. The report, however, had mistakenly assigned land values to the offshore area.

Within 30 miles of the shoreline, and especially near Tybee, winds are now rated 4 and 5 on the seven-point wind classification scale.

Inland, the wind dies quickly.

“If you’re about three to five miles from the coast, there’s a chance you have viable wind,” said Glenn Mauney, director of sales for Wind Energy Consulting and Contracting.

Offshore wind has been an energy staple in northern Europe for about 15 years, but no wind farms exist off the U.S. coast. Land-based American wind farms are expected to produce about 17,000 megawatts of electricity this year, or just more than 1 percent of the nation’s needs, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Liz Philpot, principal research engineer for The Southern Company, parent of Georgia Power, said the energy giant is slowly moving forward on its wind plans. Earlier this year, it applied to the federal Minerals Management Service for three wind lease applications that would allow it to set up meteorological monitoring stations off the coast of Tybee.

That agency, currently developing the federal regulations that will govern wind farms more than three miles offshore, accepted only 16 of the 46 applications for such leases. All three of Southern’s bids were accepted and are now open for public comment.

Still, Philpot cautions that offshore wind farming in Georgia is far from a reality.

“It’s a long way off,” she said. “It’s several years off for sure.”

Wolff can’t wait.

“If they were 10 miles offshore, they’d be less visible than the channel markers,” he said. “Every day when I ride my bike on the beach, I wish those markers were wind turbines.”

Mary Landers

Savannah Morning News

26 June 2008