When wind-power boosters planned a town hall meeting Thursday in tiny Tybee Island, Ga., they slotted speaking time after the mayor for a manager from a British industry incubator.
Two weeks earlier, a Danish company that designs ships to install offshore windmills had announced it would open an office in Fort Lauderdale, despite a total absence of nearby wind farms.
Both decisions underscore a message that environmental advocates worked to project last week by releasing a report that promotes the waters off the East Coast, including areas near Jacksonville, as a potential boom area for harvesting energy from wind to power millions of homes.
Offshore wind-farming “holds great potential to create jobs, cut pollution, and reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels,” Curtis Fisher, a staffer at the National Wildlife Federation, said when the group released state-by-state summaries that estimated the coast’s total power potential at 212 gigawatts, theoretically representing enough to power more than 45 million homes.
Not one turbine has been erected, however, in contrast to European coastlines where wind power has become a significant business.
Advocates want the federal government to take new steps to foster offshore wind farms.
“What we’d like to see is the Obama administration remove unnecessary barriers to wind [power],” said Sarah Bucci, a federal policy specialist for the activist group Environment Florida.
“Right now, it’s easier to site a new coal-fired power plant … than it would be to build an offshore wind farm.”
Florida has never completed an estimate of the state’s wind potential, a first step toward planning any policy on using wind. A privately funded report two years ago estimated 40 gigawatts could be produced in water less than 98 feet deep, but skeptics question that figure.
JEA invited bids from wind power companies as part of an alternative-energy plan in 2008, but had no takers, said Gerri Boyce, a utility spokeswoman. The proposals that were received led instead to construction of a solar farm on the Westside.
The state’s potential “is not as good as in some other states,” but is still meaningful, said Simon Mahan, a renewable energy manager at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy who contributed to the wildlife federation report.
A ribbon of shallow coastline extending south past Jacksonville could give energy companies room to work a number of miles offshore.
Researchers working with Georgia Tech concluded in 2007 that areas east of Tybee Island and St. Simons Island, Ga., might each be plausible for offshore power farms where cables would carry power back to shore for transmission. A 10-megawatt demonstration project was suggested at Tybee, which was the reason for Thursday’s meeting with residents there. No immediate action is planned, however.
The U.S. Department of Energy gave the wind industry a boost in September by announcing policies intended to help make offshore power available by 2030 at around the same price as conventional power sources, Mahan said.
The same policies aim to have offshore wind at about twice the price of conventional power by 2020, Mahan said.
If offshore farms were built in Georgia, JEA customers could end up tapping into some of the power, because the utility controls large transmission lines from Georgia that have capacity to carry more power south, said Tom Larson, a Southern Alliance policy specialist in Northeast Florida.
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