Within the next few months, Georgia Power plans to install small-scale wind turbines on Skidaway Island to research the viability of this renewable energy in the Peach State.
The demonstration project calls for up to four turbines, three of them less than 100 feet high at the hub and a fourth about 140 feet at the hub to test higher altitude winds. There will also be a meteorological tower.
The siting of the project at Georgia Power’s preferred coastal site at the University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography depends on approval by the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents, which will hear about the project at an upcoming board meeting.
“We anticipate that it will be on the agenda for introduction and review on Feb. 11. However, it will not be voted on in this session,” said Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft.
The idea of a wind demonstration project, though not a specific site, was approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission as part of the utility’s 2013 Integrated Resource Plan.
Georgia Power, which is joining forces with Georgia Southern University to study the environmental effect of the turbines, expects to build the turbines before July and remove them in about two years. One year of data collection, evaluation and reporting is anticipated.
The turbines are about 10 kilowatts each, big enough to power a typical home.
“Onshore wind has not been considered a great resource in Georgia, but we did want to conduct a small wind demonstration project to focus on mountain and coastal projects,” Kraft said.
Skidaway Institute of Oceanography was selected after six months of site evaluation. Siting will also occur at a mountain location.
“It is a great fit for a university partnership, potential of wind resource and land availability,” Kraft said.
Some neighbors, particularly in the nearby gated community on Modena Island, are concerned it’s not a great fit for them.
Ben Farmer said he’s worried about the noise and the effect on birds.
“There are bald eagles and wood storks less than 100 meters away,” he said. “There are a lot of smaller birds at nighttime.”
Wildlife biologist Tim Keyes of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said Georgia Power had requested a comment letter from him. He’s currently drafting that letter, which will recommend pre-installation monitoring for several years to look at bird and bat movement on the coast.
“There are certainly concerns with potential bird strikes,” said Keyes, who opposed the installation of a 150-foot donated wind turbine on the north end of Tybee last year, citing bird strikes and a particular concern about endangered piping plovers.
Farmer, who recently completed serving 11 years on the Chatham County Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission, said existing zoning ordinances don’t apply to anything on state-owned land. There’s also a utilities loophole he’s afraid could be exploited in the future to proliferate small-scale turbines.
“Right now there’s nothing in zoning to prevent me (from installing a small-scale turbine) because it’s a utility,” he said.
An inquiry from a Modena neighbor to Robert Sebek, the county zoning administrator, brought this response: “At this point in time, per the Chatham County Zoning Ordinance, because they are not a listed use they are not permitted within the unincorporated County.”
But Tom Thomson, executive director of the MPC, also looked into the issue at Farmer’s request.
“We couldn’t find anything specifically that prohibited them,” he said.
That’s also the case with solar panels, although their use is limited in the historic district where guidelines require they must not be visible from the street or lane. Thomson said a bigger limiting factor for turbines in the near future is likely to be cost.
“It’s really expensive per kilowatt to get that infrastructure up and running,” he said.
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