Wind workshop aims to organize policy and framework

By Daniel Brock
dbrock@scbiznews.com
Published March 25, 2010

The leader of the Clemson University Restoration Institute told a packed wind energy workshop on Wednesday that South Carolina is a prime location for wind energy development and investment and that now it needs the right regulatory framework.

Nick Rigas, director of renewable energy and senior scientist at the North Charleston-based facility, which will be home to the world’s largest wind-turbine drivetrain testing site, said he saw “no reason why we (South Carolina) shouldn’t” become a leader in the wind energy industry.

As yet, however, organizers said there is no set policy for development.

Rigas delivered his presentation at the Workshop on Offshore Wind Energy Development. The event was organized by the Regulatory Task Force for Coastal Clean Energy, the S.C. Energy Office and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.

Rigas pointed to the ocean wind resources the state possesses and the shallow water off the coast, even at great distances, as two examples of why wind energy would thrive here.

“The Southeast wind resource is very significant,” Rigas told the room, which was packed with wind energy executives and state lawmakers.

A recent Department of Energy study estimated that wind energy could supply 20% of the United States’ power by 2030 and that 1 to 3 gigawatts of that power could come from South Carolina.

“That’s a conservative estimate,” Rigas said of the state’s potential contribution.

Having the resources to produce wind energy, the state now needs to form policy and regulatory frameworks, officials said.

“We really wanted to get more organized going forward when it came to policy in developing wind energy,” said Catherine Vanden Houten, a member of the task force who works in the Energy Office.

The clean energy task force that helped organize the event was formed as part of a 2008 grant from the Department of Energy. The group was tasked with finding viable, clean energy resources.

Officials hoped that the workshop, which continued today, would be a gathering point for wind companies and state leaders.

To that end, organizers brought in officials from Texas and Massachusetts to talk about their wind energy experiences. Massachusetts has been attempting to install an offshore wind farm for more than a decade, but regulatory measures and public resistance have kept them from their goal.

“Don’t underestimate public opinion,” said Dwain Rogers, deputy commissioner of renewable energy for the Texas General Land Office.

Rogers’ agency oversees wind development in that state and is currently working to bring offshore wind farms to the Gulf Coast. His task is a bit simpler, because Texas owns the waters off its coast for about 10 miles out, whereas South Carolina and other Eastern Seaboard states own the rights for three miles. Past that point, any state would have to strike a deal with the federal government for use.

Offshore wind farms would also have to be permitted by the federal Minerals Management Service, which controls mineral resources in the outer continental shelf. Rigas said that many of the restrictions set forth by the service apply to oil ventures and are too stringent for the establishment of wind farms. He said the red tape involved could deter investors.

Permit application “is a very, very long process that needs to be streamlined,” Rigas said.

As for state permitting or possible leasing, representatives from the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management and the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium gave presentations offering broad ideas and guidelines.

Richard DeVoe, executive director of the consortium, said wind energy was facing an “undefined state regulatory process for offshore activities.”

“It’s a new arena with challenges we haven’t faced before,” said Barbara Neal, director of the resource management office’s regulatory division.

Reach Daniel Brock at 843-849-3144.

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