Tybee Island earlier this year decided to pass on wind energy for the beach community, but the potential for wind turbines on the island or a few miles off its coast in the future still exists.
About five months after Tybee elected to forgo a controversial wind turbine an unnamed corporation offered to provide mostly free of charge, officials with Georgia Power and other agencies from across the state met in Savannah to discuss wind energy’s future.
“The question we’re asking about wind is will it work in Georgia?” said Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols. “… I think there are opportunities, but it’s very expensive. I think there’s still data that we have to have in order to move forward, and that’s just smart.
“It’s better to measure twice and cut once, and that’s exactly what we’re doing with wind powers.”
Like solar power that Georgia Power and others have championed in recent years as a clean alternative energy for the state, wind power has many environmental benefits. Wind turbines release no air-polluting emissions or dangerous waste streams, there is nothing to extract from the earth and it is an inexhaustible fuel source, said Mary Hallisey Hunt, a researcher and the director of operations for the Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Institute. She was among the featured speakers Friday morning at Georgia Power’s local headquarters in downtown Savannah.
The downsides, added Hunt, who is helping study the impact of off-shore wind turbines, are primarily financial, though they are also viewed as unpopular in many communities.
“Believe it or not I’ve been in meetings and I’ve been, sort of, attacked from both (political) sides,” Hunt said. “Sometimes the environmentalist groups will say it’ll damage the environment for the birds and other things, and other groups will say ‘let’s not add them to the environment.’”
Currently, Georgia Power is conducting a pair of studies to determine if those pros outweigh the cons and whether investing in wind turbines is feasible, said Ervan Hancock, the power utility’s manager for renewable energies.
“The technology continues to improve and get better to try to capture these wind resources,” said Hancock, who said Georgia Power began seriously considering wind energy in 2005. “Right now we’re in the process of doing smaller scale wind demonstrations … so we can figure out how that resource fits into the mix.”
Those demonstrations include both a land-based study and a study to determine the potential for off-shore wind turbines.
The first study includes the placement of five small wind turbines at a not-yet-determined coastal Georgia location by mid-2015 and the installation of two identical turbines at a location in the north Georgia mountains.
The second study, to determine the potential of placing turbines in the relatively shallow waters several miles off Tybee’s coast, Echols said, likely has more potential because few people – both in coastal and mountainous regions – want the turbines in visible locations.
“I think anyone who goes out to Tybee Island and stands on the beach realizes we have the potential for some wind,” Echols said. “I think probably the only thing that works in Georgia is to go off shore – five, six, seven miles – and put something out there.”
Georgia Power, Hancock said, is working to lease about 250 acres offshore to place either buoy- or tower-based censors to determine whether the speed of the wind in the location warrants future construction of turbines. The study is expected to last, at least, through 2020.
“We need to make sure that everyone is comfortable with this,” said Echols, whose commission regulates Georgia Power. “There’s a lot of controversy, and we want people to feel that we are protecting their interests … but studying the wind is prudent.
“We want to make sure we do the right thing, so patience and this study are in order.”
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