The U.S. Interior Department announced Monday it will include North Myrtle Beach in new reviews to determine whether wind energy should be developed in federal waters along South Carolina’s coast.
“Bring it on, bring them windmills on in here,” said Marc Jordan, president of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce, which along with the North Strand Coastal Wind Team has promoted wind energy development for several years.
“We took it from what we thought was a pretty outlandish idea, to something that might really work,” Jordan said. “We’ve been positioning ourselves for this for quite a while.”
The bureaucratic process to approve new leases for windmill development will also take quite a while – Interior Department procedures combine years of environmental reviews and other federal studies with public comment periods including hearings set for the Grand Strand area.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said allowing offshore wind farm leases off the Atlantic coast is part of President Barack Obama’s agenda to develop renewable energy. However, the statement issued from her department noted that South Carolina’s potential for wind energy would depend not just upon the wind, but whether developing the sites would have a negative effect on the environment.
Jordan said the windmill sites off North Myrtle Beach would be at least 10 miles offshore, barely visible except on the clearest of days, appearing like a ship on the skyline.
“You might see a blip on the horizon, if you know it’s out there,” Jordan said.
Offshore wind would also provide a source of clean, alternative energy to the region, as well as create new jobs, Jordan said.
“If it comes to fruition, we’ve often thought we could power our entire city with wind,” Jordan said.
“It’s an industry unto itself. It will generate an economy into itself – building the farm, servicing the windmills,” Jordan said. “Just from a jobs and economic impact, it would have great benefits. Alternative energy is a positive thing for all of us to take a load off of electrical capability needs.”
The Obama administration promotes wind energy as a job-builder that could also power 14 million homes along the Atlantic coast where nine offshore leases have been awarded. However, none of those proposed developments are operational.
The first step to approving South Carolina sites will be to gauge the actual interest of the commercial offshore energy industry in acquiring the lease to one of the four study areas along the Grand Strand, Cape Romain, Winyah, and Charleston, that would encompass more than 1,100 square nautical miles.
Public hearings along the Grand Strand are scheduled for Jan. 6 at St. James High School in Murrells Inlet, and Jan. 7 at Boulineau’s in North Myrtle Beach.
Jordan said it will be the chamber’s job to ensure that the hearings are packed with supporters to convince the federal government to select the Grand Strand as a lease area.
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