When state Sen. Sheila McNeill scans the Atlantic from the shores of the Golden Isles, she expects a clear view of the ocean’s horizon.
The Brunswick Republican neither expects nor desires a view marred by giant energy-producing wind turbines.
There is that possibility, however, following recent actions by the Natural Resources Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. In a vote split along party lines, Democrats supported incentives favorable to the establishment of wind farms off the coasts of Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas as part of the proposed $3.5 trillion spending bill.
Committee Democrats added wind farms to the bill in response to President Joe Biden’s call for clean, carbon-free energy.
Among other things, the bill would direct the U.S. Department of Interior to hold lease sales for offshore windmills.
McNeill does not want to see them in state waters, which extend three miles out.
“I am opposed to having windmills that would be visible to our coastal residents and our tourists,” McNeill said. “I am not against windmills in general, but our coast is not the place for them.”
Unsightliness is only one reason she objects to them. There is another.
“Not only do we worry about the optics, but we also have to worry about our bird population,” McNeill said. “There are over 280 species that spend winters on Little St. Simons alone.”
The wind-drive turbines, popular off the coasts of European countries, are another human encroachment on avian flight.
“Over one million birds are killed by wind turbines every year,” McNeill said.
Others share her sentiments, including state Rep. Buddy DeLoach, R-Townsend.
“I am opposed to these structures,” he said when asked. “We will be looking at what the states can do to protect our coast.
“In the meantime, I just pray that members of Congress will come to realize what a terrible bill President Biden is pushing. It seems that he would like to destroy all that we hold dear.”
There is at least one outspoken skeptic of coastal wind farms in Congress: U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1. It’s a position that goes all the way back to his days as a state legislator.
“The General Assembly has previously expressed reservations with offshore energy exploration,” Carter said. “While I recognize the need for and value American-made energy, I will not support development off Georgia’s coast until those concerns have been resolved.”
Carter served in the state House from 2005 to 2009 and in the Georgia Senate from 2009 to 2014.
Jennette Gayer, director of the Environment Georgia, said her organization favors wind energy and would support responsibly sited offshore wind in Georgia.
“Wind power is a clean, carbon-free and abundant source of energy and, especially as other states begin to perfect the process and supply chain for offshore wind farms, we can’t afford to ignore this carbon-free energy source,” she said.
Southern Co., the parent company of Georgia Power, has been researching the possibility of generating electricity from turbines in Atlantic waters off the coastline for more than a decade.
A joint two-year study by Georgia Tech and Southern Co. that concluded in 2007 yielded a positive report on the feasibility of wind farms off Tybee and Jekyll islands. Of the two, the report said Tybee would be the more ideal location because windmills would be less visible from the beach there.
Average offshore wind speed measured during the study was between 16-17 mph.
“We continue to believe that renewable energy resources, possibly including wind, need to be a part of our energy supply portfolio. We will continue to pursue this and other renewable energy options that allow us to provide reliable and affordable electricity to our customers,” said Leonard Haynes, Southern Co. executive vice president for supply technologies, renewables and demand-side planning at the time the results of the study were released in June 2007.
Costs and regulations were the only two concerns cited in the report.