The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has issued an environmental assessment supporting lease sales for wind energy farms in about 185,000 acres of the Atlantic Ocean off Brunswick County, N.C., but it is by no means certain wind power generated there will come ashore in North Myrtle Beach.
The announcement shifts the attention from actions taken by the city and the North Strand Coastal Wind Team to position North Myrtle Beach as a wind power center and puts it into hands in Columbia, Moncks Corner and Washington, D.C.
The city and the Wind Team have worked together to put up land-based wind turbines, study and educate the public about the benefits – environmental and economic – of being a wind power center, declare the city a wind power economic zone, and endorse the installation of a wind power cable conduit parallel to a stormwater ocean outfall pipe.
While the efforts have gotten the city nationwide publicity, the next actions will come from the federal government’s lease sales and potentially a determination by Santee Cooper if wind power could be incorporated into the electricity grid at North Myrtle Beach.
Additionally, a bill has been introduced in the General Assembly that would allow investor-owned utilities to team with each other and/or state-owned Santee Cooper on a wind farm that would generate 75 megawatts. But Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, agreed that the federal government leases could happen quicker than a utility-generated effort, essentially negating the need for the legislation to be introduced in the Senate.
But it’s passage would mean the city has all the parts in place to take advantage of what could come.
“It’s a huge process,” said Monroe Baldwin, one of the Wind Team’s founders. “You’re years and years away (from any power coming ashore). It all takes way longer than you think.”
BOEM has scheduled a public education meeting on the assessment for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 12 at the South Brunswick Islands Center at 9400 Highway 17, a few miles north of the state line.
BOEM also is looking at lease sales in 122,000 acres off the northeastern N.C. coast.
The southeast N.C. coast leases would be in two separate tracts, designated as the Wilmington East Wind Energy Area and the Wilmington West Wind Energy Area.
The Wilmington West area, which on its northwest edge is close to the coastline, is about 33,600 acres while the Wilmington East area has 151,600 acres. It is unclear whether the energy from wind farms in those areas would be directed through cables to North Carolina or North Myrtle Beach.
Baldwin maintains that Santee Cooper’s grid has the capacity for an additional 300 megawatts of electricity, and he and other Wind Team members believe that a landfall at Cherry Grove would be ideal to run cables along Sea Mountain Highway to Santee Cooper’s substation near North Myrtle Beach High School.
The city has not constructed an ocean outfall there yet, and it has asked the Wind Team to get a letter from Santee Cooper stating if it can and will take the wind-generated electricity at its substation on Sea Mountain.
But Mollie Gore, Santee Cooper spokeswoman, said a study to determine if the company will accept wind farm energy there would require a detailed study that would look at how wind farm power would affect not only its grid, but that of Duke Power and South Carolina Electric and Gas as well, and how it might influence Santee Cooper’s ability to reliably deliver power to its customers.
Gore said that there is a process partially set by the federal government for such studies. The request would have to come from someone connected with a project with specific transmission needs and be paid for by the entity requesting the information.
Gore said Santee Cooper started looking at the potential of wind power 10 years ago. The company owns a small, land-based turbine in North Myrtle Beach and established its first solar farm and landfill methane power generation in Horry County.
She said it has a goal to meet 40 percent of its customers electricity needs with increased energy efficiency and energy from sources that produce no carbon dioxide by 2020.
But North Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand could benefit from offshore wind farms even if the power from them goes ashore in North Carolina.
The towers will need maintenance, and the businesses and crews to supply that could operate out of northeastern South Carolina as easily as from southeastern North Carolina, officials said.
Baldwin, for one, believes that a wind farm producing 75 megawatts of power is the place to start.
“You need to come in small on the first project,” he said, “so you can fit (the power) in without upsetting the apple carts.”
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