On the coastal plain of North Carolina, a 22,000-acre wind farm is under construction that when finished would operate 150 turbines – generating enough electricity to power more than 300,000 homes.
That’s no longer a farfetched notion for the Lowcountry, says the energy attorney who helped steer the first utility scale generating station to the countryside near Elizabeth City. The $400 million Iberdrola Renewables plant might just be a bellwether for the region.
In South Carolina, “there are a lot of factors that have to come together, but I believe it’s certainly feasible from a technology point of view,” said attorney Henry Campen, of the Raleigh-based Parker Poe firm.
Campen is in Charleston this week to take part in a American Wind Energy Association conference panel. The association is a national wind industry advocate with more than 1,200 member organizations.
Conference cochairman Michael Speerschneider, of EverPower Wind Holdings, described the conference as a presentation of state-of-the-art methods for dealing with siting and compliance issues.
Until recently utilities in South Carolina, wary of costs and uncertain of profits, have lagged behind other states in efforts to develop alternative power sources. So has the legislature. The state ranks 28th in the nation with the percent of its power that comes from alternative sources.
The emphasis so far has been on solar power. In 2015, investor-owned electric companies rolled out new incentives for customers who install solar power, as required under a sweeping state law dealing with alternative energy. Little interest has been shown in investing in wind energy.
What focus there has been on wind power is offshore. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has opened the waters to leasing for wind farms and at least two private companies have expressed interest. Neither are South Carolina-based.
Offshore winds are significantly stronger and steadier than onshore winds in South Carolina, and those offshore winds generally have been considered marginal to produce electric power cost-effectively, much less competitively. But taller towers and bigger wind turbine blades are in development that could change the equation for both.
“With the improved wind technology that is now entering the marketplace, South Carolina could also be able to tap into this resource. Although our state has been primarily focused on offshore wind in the past, broadening that view to include land based wind certainly makes sense,” said Hamilton Davis, Coastal Conservation League energy and climate director.
Developing offshore wind power in South Carolina is going to take time, Campen said. “The cost is going to have to come down dramatically to make it commercially viable, and the technology is going to have to catch up.”
The Southeastern Wind Coalition estimates that within 10 years most of the state will have at least some ability to produce wind power cost-effectively. Campen is chairman of that advocacy group.
The North Carolina wind farm, under construction in Perquimans and Pasquotank Counties, is a private developer investment with local tax incentives similar to fee-in-lieu payments in South Carolina, Campen said. And, yes, in the wide open coastal farmland, there’s plenty of wind.
“I’m out there every six weeks or so and it blows like the dickens,” Campen said. The site “is enormous, it’s just an enormous tract of land. It’s pretty impressive.”
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