Energized by wind power

January 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Wind energy is a tantalizing source of power for coastal states and one for which South Carolina is poised to be a national leader, largely thanks to the work of the Clemson Restoration Institute in North Charleston.

Fortunately, for supporters of renewable energy in South Carolina, wind hasn’t experienced the impediments that have been thrown in the way of solar power.

Clemson’s testing facility has been supported with $100 million in state and federal funds, and private contributions. It will test wind turbine drive-trains, which are an essential component of generating electrical power.

Wind power could have a big payoff for the state, ultimately creating as many as 10,000 jobs, its advocates say. The experience of the North Sea port of Bremerhaven, Germany, says those estimates might not be exaggerated.

That city was transformed from an industrial derelict to a wind-power giant in just a decade. In doing so, it cut its unemployment rate, while creating skilled manufacturing jobs for thousands of workers.

Wind power could be a big, new industry for South Carolina, But this state isn’t alone in seeking a wind power payoff in the Atlantic.

Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson detailed the work of an economic development task force from New Bedford, Mass., that toured Bremerhaven’s offshore wind facilities this year in hopes of replicating its success.

Bremerhaven’s economic prospects appeared dismal as late as 1999, Mr. Jackson wrote. “Bremerhaven’s shipbuilding and fishing industries had crashed. A U.S. military base had shut down, leaving shopkeepers idle and their landlords empty handed. Unemployment hit 25 percent. A quarter of its population disappeared.”

But the shift to wind power was a breath of fresh air.

“Once a windy, empty town of 113,000, Bremerhaven now appears on maps under the moniker ‘Wind City.’ Top turbine companies set up shop in the area. Electronics, engineering, hydraulics, welding, plastics, and carbon-fiber companies were joined by gear, bolts, and tool manufacturers to create a supply chain. Local universities set up programs to retrain idle fishermen and ship builders for the offshore wind industry.”

Five thousand jobs are tied directly to wind energy in the Bremerhaven area. Altogether, the German wind industry has generated 10,000 jobs with projections of 33,000 by 2021.

A Clemson University study last year concluded that a wind farm offshore could create 3,800 jobs per year during a 10-year construction period, and would generate nearly $2 billion in wages.

As a testing facility, Clemson’s wind research center should benefit from the growing interest in coastal wind power even if South Carolina doesn’t join the movement to offshore wind farms.

And the Institute’s work in materials research, such as that conducted for the restoration of the Confederate submarine Hunley, could yield benefits to an industry dealing with a harsh marine environment. Offshore wind-generation facilities have been bedeviled by rust and corrosion.

There is currently a wind turbine manufacturer in Greenville, and the work of the Clemson Institute says that similar investments should be a natural for the Charleston metro area.

South Carolina’s future in alternate energy generation looks good, particularly if the Legislature will remove unwarranted impediments to solar power.

The growth of alternate energy can only improve the economic prospects of a state already focused intensely on job creation. Just look at Bremerhaven.

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