Georgia has greater potential for wind energy than six of the other 13 Atlantic coast states, but a recent National Wildlife Federation report details how the Peach State is falling behind in developing that potential.
“Georgia has a little over 60 gigawatts (of wind resource),” said Jennette Gayer, advocate for Environment Georgia, which helped launch the report. “That’s like 75 average-sized power plants.”
Unlike 11 of the other coastal states, Georgia hasn’t joined the Atlantic States Offshore Wind Consortium, a federal program designed to coordinate and streamline wind development
off the Atlantic coast. South Carolina and Florida are the only other hold outs.
States, such as New Jersey and Virginia, with conservative Republican governors have joined, Gayer pointed out.
“We think it would be reasonable first step,” she said.
But Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson indicated via email that the governor is not inclined to support wind energy development now.
“When the markets and the technology advance further, we believe there will be a day when wind energy is a viable option for our state,” he wrote. “Georgia will start using wind energy when the prices are right and the technology is right for the unique nature of our wind energy off the coast.
“Studies show the current technologies available won’t work in Georgia’s environment. There is in fact wind energy potential in Georgia and we have every hope that improvements in technology will one day allow us to use this clean, renewable resource.”
Environment Georgia is also calling on lawmakers to extend federal tax credits for offshore wind that are set to expire at the end of the year.
Gayer rejected the idea that Georgia’s wind has a “unique nature” and that current technology won’t work here.
“I am not aware of those studies and would absolutely want to see any that exist,” she said. “But even if they did, that’s not a reason for Georgia not to support tax credits or join the consortium. We need to start somewhere; as he points out, he thinks we will be doing wind some day in Georgia.”
Robinson did not respond to a request to clarify his statement. A study released from Stanford University on Tuesday said that offshore wind from Maine to Virginia could power those states for three seasons of the year. But it cautioned that the development of wind south of Virginia was precluded by the risk of hurricanes higher than a category three, the most the turbines are built to withstand.
Georgia’s offshore wind was once thought inadequate for power production, but Georgia Tech researchers debunked that idea in 2005 with previously overlooked data collected by the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. A 2007 report by Southern Company and Georgia Tech concluded that “Coastal Georgia waters include large areas with good wind resources in shallow water that have the potential for wind farm development. Also, much of the coastline includes undeveloped areas with close proximity to potential landfall sites for transmission grid access.”
Southern Company and Georgia Power are in the process of applying to the Department of the Interior to build a tower or deploy a floating platform for site-specific wind data collection off the coast of Tybee. The process began in 2011.
Spokesman Mark Williams said Georgia Power wasn’t aware of the consortium and couldn’t comment on Georgia’s lack of participation. Southern Company spokesman Steve Higginbottom said the company did not oppose the extension of the tax incentives.
Despite the slow pace of offshore wind turbine installation, Georgia does have a growing wind manufacturing sector, including ZF Wind Power, a manufacturer of wind turbine gearboxes in Gainesville. Developing offshore wind would boost employment here with more jobs in operations and maintenance of turbines, said Paul Wolff, a renewable energy advocate and Tybee City Council member.
“Most of those in Georgia couldn’t be outsourced,” he said. “Those are good paying jobs.”
The prospects for offshore wind look good to Wolff, who believes even hurricane threats could be overcome with the right technology.
“We’re in a great position for offshore wind,” he said. “We just haven’t had a governor that’s remotely interested. That’s the problem.”
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