Feds to announce SC ocean wind tracts in North Myrtle Beach

South Carolina’s nascent wind power industry will take a significant step forward in September when the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management identifies the offshore tracts available for lease to wind power farms.

It is also significant that the announcement will be made in North Myrtle Beach because it recognizes the work the city and the North Shore Wind Team have done to position the city as the logical place for transmission lines from the farms to move into the land-bound power grid.

The city’s power infrastructure already can handle the infusion of 300 megawatts of additional power and direct it to homes and businesses throughout the region. Further, the city will incorporate ducts in future ocean outfall pipes where the transmission lines can emerge from the sea.

North Myrtle Beach likely will be the closest land area between Georgetown, S.C. and southeastern North Carolina with existing infrastructure for the transmission lines. The ocean offshore from the area has some of the most reliable winds on the East Coast.

Offshore areas in the Northeast have better winds, according to studies, but the ocean floor there drops off rapidly within 5 miles or so off shore, which already has led to battles from those who don’t want wind towers to be a prominent part of their sea views.

The slope is much more gradual in waters off the Carolinas, meaning the towers can be positioned 10 or more miles from beaches. They may be visible from that distance on clear air days, but only as pinpoints on the distant horizon, said Monroe Baldwin, North Shore Wind Team chairman.

The BOEM announcement comes on the heels of the adoption of a resolution by the S.C. Senate recognizing the value of wind-generated energy. Baldwin and others said that in itself was an important step toward the development of wind energy in state waters because it tells investors that the state is likely to craft laws and regulations sensitive to their needs.

The resolution recognizes wind power as part of a multi-source energy strategy and North Myrtle Beach as a Wind Empowered Economic Zone.

At the same time, though, the Senate would not vote to designate wind power an official part of the state’s energy mix. But it did formally incorporate solar power into the mix, a move that could help break down resistance to the addition of wind power into the grid and establish a process that could be adapted to energy generated from offshore winds.

According to information from Massachusetts, where the East Coast’s first offshore wind farm could be located, a single megawatt of offshore wind energy can power 400 homes, at least 100 more homes than can be powered by a megawatt from less-powerful land-based winds.

But that total drops to 200 homes in the Southeast because of higher electricity use in summer for air conditioning and in winter for heat, said Mollie Gore, spokeswoman for Santee Cooper Power. Most homes in the Northeast rely on fuel oil for heat and use air conditioning much more sparingly than those in the Southeast.

Power generated by offshore winds, which is becoming increasingly common in Europe, is an important part of the clean energy mix – solar power and biofuels are others – that will help to reduce the need for fossil fuels to generate electricity and in the long run help to combat global warming.