Offshore wind proves complicated to get built in South Carolina

Greater Gabbard Wind Farm, United Kingdom (504 MW)

LITCHFIELD BEACH, S.C. (AP) — Developing wind energy off the South Carolina coast is not as simple as putting up a wind turbine and running a power line to shore.

Regulators say the impacts of the industry on everything from marine creatures to what the giant turbines would look like from shore must be considered.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has identified almost 1,200 nautical square miles in four tracts off the coast that have the potential to be leased for wind energy. But before that is done, there will be extensive studies.

A number of concerns were discussed last week as officials from the bureau met with a South Carolina advisory committee working on offshore wind energy:

North Atlantic right whales migrate along the coast and have their calves off South Carolina, Georgia and Florida in the winter and early spring. Then the whales, of which there are only an estimated 450 left in the world, head north to feeding grounds off Canada and New England. The impact of wind turbines on the whales will have to be gauged.

There is concern that giant turbines wind spinning offshore will spoil the views of the ocean for locals as well as the millions of tourists who are the lifeblood of South Carolina's $18 billion tourism industry. Even though regulators say it could be as long as a decade before the first turbines might be put up, the town of Pawleys Island last November passed a resolution opposing the placement of any turbines that can be seen day or night offshore from the resort community.

There are concerns about the effect the industry could have on pristine coastal areas. The tracts proposed for wind development are no closer than 6 nautical miles from shore, to avoid the high concentrations of birds that fly nearer to shore and would be endangered by turbine blades. The Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge on the coast is also part of a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Biosphere Reserve. It's one of about 650 sites worldwide where scientists work to sustain the biological diversity of an area.

Federal regulators say that it's too early to say where specific wind turbine farms might be connected to the electric grid on shore. But there is concern some offshore areas would require running cables through pristine areas like Cape Romain while areas farther offshore would require longer cable runs, making wind energy cost prohibitive.

The four areas selected are outside the main shipping channels or areas used for Department of Defense activities such as training. Areas near artificial reefs, which attract fishermen, were also excluded.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is publishing the proposed lease areas in the Federal Register. That triggers additional studies and collecting public comment on the proposal. Regulators say public hearings will be held down the road.

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