Bringing Wind to the Southeast

Thousands of people are employed in the wind industry in the Southeast region of the U.S. However, only a handful of wind projects are actually in operation. The vast majority of people in the Southeast employed in wind energy work at manufacturing hubs.

North and South Carolina have at least 30 wind-related manufacturing plants, including a major turbine factory in Greenville, S.C., and fiberglass factories in Shelby and Lexington, N.C. Florida boasts another 14 such facilities, while Arkansas has nine — five in business and four in development — that are forecast to employ 2,900 people once they come online. Another 34 plants are located in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee, where some 1,200 to 3,000 jobs are directly or indirectly supported by the wind industry.

Yet just a trickle of megawatts are online in the Southeast region. Of the 12 states nationwide that have installed less than 1 MW of wind power capacity, 10 are south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

The reason for a lack of development in the Southeast is clear: a lack of wind resources. The average wind speed in most states in the region is 4 to 5 meters per second, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, while Plains states enjoy wind resources in the 7.5 to 9 m/s range.

But this didn’t stop the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) from choosing Atlanta, Ga. as the location for WindPower 2012 event. During a session on June 4, industry leaders explored the question of how to bring wind to the Southeast.

The largest prospective wind project in the Southeast is the Wind Capital Group’s Sugarland Wind project, a proposed 200 MW wind farm on farmland in Palm Beach County, Fla. Projects such as these are possible due to recent breakthroughs in wind turbine technology, said Dave Groberg, vice president of Invenergy.

“We have seen significant advances in turbine technology over the past 10 years – longer blades, operational capabilities at lower wind speeds,” Groberg said.

While wind development in the Southeast is possible, Frank Costanza, vice president of business development, TradeWind Energy, said that importing wind from the Plains states is a wiser financial decision. For example, wind produced from the Southeast region can cost anywhere from $65 to $100, whereas wind imported from the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) region, including transmission costs, totals about $41 to $55.

“Even with turbine improvements, it’s cheaper to import wind power,” Costanza said.

Jimmy Glotfelty, executive vice president of Clean Line Energy, discussed using HVDC to deliver wind power to the Southeast. The company’s goal is to connect 3,500 MW of wind power from Oklahoma into a Memphis, Tenn. substation. The process will take about $2 billion, and the company is currently facing difficulties receiving permitting for transmission lines to run through Arkansas. Glotfelty said moving wind from the less expensive wind generating areas to the Southeast is a clear solution.

“If we want the least expensive wind to move to the coast, we have to solve the transmission problem,” he said.

For now, WindPower 2012 will try to leave its lasting mark on the city that served as the inspiration for “Gone With the Wind,” and remain hopeful that the Southeast will find new and innovative ways to go with the wind.

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