In the parking lot of Coastal Carolina University’s Center for Marine and Wetland Studies (CMWS) in Conway, South Carolina, sit six buoys just back from sea.
For 14 months, they were floating miles off the coasts of Myrtle Beach and Winyah Bay, as part of the Palmetto Wind Research Project in South Carolina, taking wind speed measurements for a study that could lay the foundation for an offshore wind farm.
“It’s been cooking along under the radar,” said Paul Gayes, director of the CMWS, which partnered with local utility Santee Cooper. “We’ve had six buoys out there for a year, while other states are just getting some stuff in the water.”
Local universities and Santee Cooper just wrapped up this preliminary wind potential study, with the help of a U.S. Department of Energy grant administered by the South Carolina Energy Office.
Wind out at sea starts with numbers
Researchers from Coastal Carolina University, working alongside Clemson University, Savannah River National Laboratory and the University of South Carolina, started collecting wind speeds, as well as current, wave and other oceanographic information, in July 2009 from near the coast to as far as 12 miles off shore.
Based upon the wind speed measurement collected, Santee Cooper decided that Winyah Bay is a prime location if the utility takes the next step in the research, building a turbine-height anemometer offshore.
The anemometer, which would stand 80 meters in height, will determine wind speed and direction (turbulence) by measuring how sound waves travel between a pair of transducers.
“The wind buoy data did allow us to consider the next step,” said Mollie Gore, a spokeswoman for Santee Cooper, which helped financed the project.
Santee Cooper has contracted for the preliminary design of the anemometer, a phase expected to take a year or more. Constructing the tower is estimated to cost $4 million, Gore says.
Santee Cooper will use the data from the anemometer and then evaluate the viability and practicality of a full-scale offshore wind farm.
This study is part of a larger coordinated offshore wind effort led by Clemson University, Santee Cooper, Savannah River National Laboratory, Coastal Carolina University, North Carolina State University and several other agencies, municipalities and interests groups in the state that has been underway for more the five years.
Policy, permitting and citizens are playing a major role in the next part of the process.
According to Gayes, though, because of the collaboration between local government agencies and a task force, a lot of the leg work is already in motion. A great deal of public discussion developing acceptance from South Carolinians is also underway.
“I’ve given 20 to 30 talks over the last years [to the public],” he said. “There’s a lot of interest.”
For its part, Santee Cooper is evaluating the research to date and planning its next steps carefully, always with an eye toward what is best for its customers and the state, Gore said.
“There are many uncertainties, and it’s very expensive,” she said. “We are making sure that we are being very deliberative and conservative. We don’t want to get into something, and then decide it’s not going to work.”