S.C. Sea Grant Consortium

Coastal Heritage Magazine

Prevailing Winds: Building Momentum Offshore

Driven by a combination of factors, from new federal energy goals to a burgeoning wind-energy manufacturing presence in South Carolina, an effort to bring offshore wind to the Palmetto State is gaining momentum.

A rendering of a ship building a wind turbine in the open water.
Piece by Piece. Dominion Energy’s Charybdis will be the first U.S.-built offshore wind installation vessel. The 472-foot ship will be used to support the construction of two planned offshore wind farms in the Northeast and also may be used on the Coastal Virginia Offshore project off the coast of Virginia Beach. Rendering by GustoMSC.

Prevailing Winds: Building Momentum Offshore

The swift winds that beachgoers and boaters alike have come to know well could soon power hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in South Carolina. Giant turbines spinning at several wind farms, each situated 10 or more miles from the coast, would harness the wind’s energy before sending it to land via highvoltage cables buried in the seafloor. This electricity would be channeled through coastal load centers that prioritize where the electricity should go, distributing it into the electrical grid of population centers. It’s a vision that could be on the horizon for South Carolina.

Driven by a combination of factors, from new federal energy goals to a burgeoning wind-energy manufacturing presence in the state, a decade-old effort to plan for offshore wind in the Palmetto State is finally gaining momentum. “The winds are picking up,” says Sara Bazemore, director of the South Carolina Energy Office.

The inside of a wind turbine showing electronics.
On the Cover: The drivetrain testing facility at Clemson University’s Dominion Energy Innovation Center, which opened in 2009, was constructed to help engineers design the most efficient and advanced offshore wind turbines. Photo by Grace Beahm Alford.
Advanced planning for a project at the South Carolina and North Carolina border could begin this year. Lease bids were recently submitted for the project, called “Carolina Long Bay,” situated in federal waters just north of the border between the Carolinas and adjacent to the Myrtle Beach, S.C., area. Spanning a 127,865- acre swath of ocean, the wind farm has the potential to unlock more than 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy and power more than 500,000 homes. Furthermore, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the agency that oversees wind-energy development in federal waters, has also identified four South Carolina wind energy call areas—vast expanses of continental shelf ripe for potential wind energy in the state.

Experts say it will be some time before wind turbines are in the waters turning, and various projects and alternatives would each face different obstacles. But in general, offshore wind energy off the coast of South Carolina is more feasible than ever before.

Offshore wind has been successfully deployed in Europe since 1991 when Vindeby, the world’s first wind farm, was built off the coast of Denmark. By 2020, Europe saw a record $31 billion investment in offshore wind projects. Offshore wind-energy development deploys huge wind turbines (see sidebar “Six Facts About Offshore Wind Energy” on the next page) to harness energy from coastal winds. As the wind blows, it flows over the airfoil-shaped blades of wind turbines, causing the blades to spin. The blades are connected to a drive shaft that turns an electric generator to produce electricity. The newest wind turbines are technologically advanced and include engineering and mechanical innovations to help maximize efficiency. A series of cables buried in the seafloor carries wind-produced electricity to shore.

A man on a ladder inspects tall buoys in a warehouse.
Scout. Paul Gayes, of Coastal Carolina University, has been studying the potential wind energy resources in South Carolina for more than 10 years. In this 2010 photo, Gayes replaces lights on buoys that measure wind speed, direction, and frequency off the South Carolina coast. Photo by Wade Spees.
In the U.S., only a handful of commercial-scale turbines are spinning in the waters (in projects off Rhode Island and Virginia) but that could be set to rapidly change. Last spring, the current federal administration sparked the beginning of what many see as an offshore-wind boom on the Eastern Seaboard when officials announced bold efforts to sharply increase offshore wind energy along America’s shores. The administration has made ocean wind farms a centerpiece of its clean-energy agenda, and in January 2022, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland declared the country was “at an inflection point for offshore wind energy development.” The administration has announced a goal to deploy a total of 30 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030 in a major shift to clean energy that White House officials say will catalyze offshore wind energy, strengthen the domestic supply chain, and create good-paying, high-tech jobs.

With an estimated 1-to-5 GW of offshore wind capacity, South Carolina is poised to become a key part of that effort.

In August 2021, a group of stakeholders attending a South Carolina Energy Office webinar on wind energy indicated they would like South Carolina to consider joining a recently formed multi-state partnership to promote, develop, and expand offshore wind energy. North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland established the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Transformative Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Resources (known as SMART-POWER). The addition of South Carolina to the interstate partnership would signal a big focus on bringing offshore wind energy developments and associated economic development to the Palmetto State.

From North Myrtle Beach to Charleston, clean energy advocates and a growing number of coastal officials and business leaders are promoting offshore wind as a means to lower carbon emissions, bring high-tech jobs, and improve public health.

The cities of North Myrtle Beach and Charleston have passed resolutions supporting offshore wind. The city of North Myrtle Beach officially became a “wind-powered economic zone” by proclamation of a City Council resolution, and officials hope to be able to provide the equivalent of 100 percent of its power usage from wind energy in the near future. In 2013, the Charleston City Council approved its resolution in support of offshore wind energy development. The resolution points to several potential benefits of offshore wind energy development, including long-term, well-paying jobs for the community, a new source of clean and renewable energy, and an in-state investment in energy infrastructure.

Several manufacturing companies that produce components for offshore wind are already established in the Charleston region, and could play a key role in quickly establishing a supply chain for potential projects as they are approved. Furthermore, General Electric’s facility in Greenville, S.C., serves as the company’s design center for its wind engineering team. South Carolina would have a good chance at attracting other companies as well that manufacture, assemble, install, or service wind turbines, blades, and wind-turbine foundations.

“There has been tremendous momentum nationally in the U.S. offshore arena, and that has re-energized the efforts to realize the benefits and opportunities mapped out for South Carolina for more than a decade,” says Paul Gayes, director of Coastal Carolina University’s Burroughs & Chapin Center for Marine and Wetland Studies and a professor of marine science who studies wind energy.

Supporters of offshore wind energy say it is a valuable supplement to South Carolina’s energy portfolio and represents a huge potential source of clean, renewable electricity. Offshore wind has become a more attractive energy option in the wake of the unsuccessful effort to build two new nuclear reactors in the lower Piedmont, as part of an expansion of the V.C. Summer power plant.

“Nuclear power is low carbon,” Gayes says. But building a nuclear reactor can bring other complex issues, he adds, and any new nuclear projects specifically in South Carolina are highly unlikely over the next decade, following the demise of the V.C. Summer project.

That leaves gas-powered or coal-powered energy plants as the main options for energy in the near future—unless clean energy sources are considered.

“There is a search for how to replace the future capacity production that was planned to be provided by the failed nuclear plant,” Gayes says.

Offshore wind generation could provide some of that future capacity. “Offshore wind energy makes a lot of sense for South Carolinians in that it can serve as a key component of achieving a carbon-free electricity system that would reliably meet our power needs, reduce pollution, protect people’s health, grow the economy, and conserve our environment,” says Chris Carnevale, Climate Advocacy director at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

In addition, offshore wind energy greatly reduces water consumption compared to conventional power plants, since water is not required for cooling, he says. Furthermore, wind energy costs have fallen significantly—decreasing 70 percent over the last decade alone.

“The proposition of offshore wind development is perhaps even more attractive now than when our state first started discussing offshore wind more than a decade ago,” Carnevale says. “Costs are coming down, technology is advancing, and there is a growing public understanding of the need to achieve a clean electricity system.”

Perhaps most importantly, the state is in a prime position, geographically, for offshore wind energy development.

A Viable Resource

On the Eastern Seaboard, South Carolina has the second largest overall offshore-wind resource, behind North Carolina, according to a recent analysis by the conservation group Oceana. The study found that the Carolinas offer the largest potential economically recoverable wind resources.

An oldfashioned farm windmill with modern turbines in the background.
Harnessing Energy. In some American rural areas, windmills still draw up groundwater while wind turbines provide electricity to growing communities. Photo by Terrance Emerson, Dreamstime.com.
The conditions off the South Carolina coast are prime for offshore wind. “There’s good wind and good seafloor for offshore wind,” says Meredyth Crichton, executive director of Clemson University’s Dominion Energy Innovation Center, in North Charleston, S.C. “The waters tend to be pretty shallow for a long distance on the [continental] shelf, and wind in that area is very good for offshore—consistent wind speed.”

In addition, Crichton adds that potential offshore wind areas are near outstanding port facilities such as the Port of Charleston, providing possible facilities for manufacturers as well as maintenance crews to efficiently operate.

“In New England, the water depth increases pretty quickly,” says Simon Mahan, executive director for the Southern Renewable Energy Association. “The Southern Bight stays shallow out pretty far,” Mahan adds, describing the area formally known as the South Atlantic Bight, the continental shelf that extends from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to West Palm Beach, Florida. There is, in addition, ample offshore space, Mahan explains, for potential wind development that does not interfere with commercial fishing and shipping traffic.

A Path to Clean Energy

On a given day in the Midwest and Great Plains, such as the states of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa, a significant portion of the energy “generation mix” is provided by wind energy. The Southwest Power Pool—a utility transmission organization that serves a large part of this area—tracks that generation mix in real time. “During springtime, I’ve seen that hit 80 percent,” says Simon Mahan, with the Southern Renewable Energy Association.

All across the heartland of the country, wind farms dot the landscape, powering homes, schools, and businesses, including a growing Facebook data center in Altoona, Iowa. In 2013, Facebook chose this location for a facility where it had great potential to power it using wind energy, and the parent company Meta now fully powers this data center from wind energy generated nearby.

For Mahan, this utilization of wind’s energy to power homes and businesses has set a model for South Carolina to achieve clean energy, albeit employing offshore wind.

Further bolstering the case, wind energy development in South Carolina also has one major element in its favor: timing.

The energy potential is tremendous especially in the summer months, when peak energy demands are highest and steady gusts blow onshore daily. “Offshore wind performs well on summer afternoons,” Mahan says. “Strong surface heating from the sun creates a vacuum for cold dense ocean air to come in, moving wind from land to offshore. There’s strong, steady wind when air conditioners are working the hardest.”

These diurnal winds are part of the earth’s prevailing winds, and would provide predictable energy at these times.

A female engineer in a hardhat.
Wind Focus. Meredyth Crichton, executive director of Clemson University’s Dominion Energy Innovation Center, at the facility in North Charleston, S.C. Photo by Grace Beahm Alford.
When it comes to offshore wind, the evaluation and approval process is lengthy, overseen by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), with significant input and planning from states. In South Carolina, there are several hurdles to overcome, and individual, proposed wind projects would each require years of technical, engineering, and environmental planning and assessment—as well as public engagement. Exploration of best placement options would look into impacts on environmental resources and marine species.

Offshore wind, however, has been propelled by the federal administration’s bold goals and the support of some South Carolina stakeholders, including representatives from the manufacturing industry and other business groups.

“Is there momentum? Absolutely,” says Catherine Reed, deputy director of the South Carolina Energy Office.

BOEM coordinates planning for potential offshore renewable energy leasing and development activities through intergovernmental task forces. The task forces serve as a forum to discuss stakeholder issues and concerns; exchange data and information about biological and physical resources, ocean uses, and priorities; and facilitate early and continual dialogue and collaboration opportunities.

Once a bid is placed for a project, there is an exhaustive regulatory and assessment process, says Mahan, who works closely with large-scale renewable developers in the South. The company will be granted the exclusive right to develop a site assessment plan. “They will send people to count marine mammals and birds, to determine what exactly is happening in that marine environment,” Mahan says.

Mahan believes it is important to ensure that offshore wind development is done in a way that maintains a healthy ocean and minimizes environmental impacts.

One particular factor to look at in the South Atlantic is the North Atlantic right whale, a species that migrates south from New England every winter. Federal officials have been studying the whale’s habitat, and it is vital to ensure that efforts are made, Mahan says, so that offshore wind development does not harm the iconic—and endangered—species. BOEM has already researched mitigating impacts through siting alternatives. Furthermore, Mahan points out that construction can be timed to occur when the whales are not in the area, and maintenance operations plans can account for lessening impacts by regulating vessel speed or prohibiting vessel operations during migratory periods for the whales. Whale observers aboard maintenance vessels also could limit any impacts.

After up to five years of evaluating the area, BOEM officials will determine if the company can move forward with a Construction and Operations plan. In addition to federal approval, a state review is required before any project in South Carolina would secure final approval, says S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management Chief Elizabeth von Kolnitz.

A planned wind farm off the coast of the Hampton Roads region of Virginia could prove to be a catalyst for offshore wind in the South Atlantic, according to Mahan. Called “Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind,” the 2,640-megawatt (MW) project is planned for 110,000 acres of federal waters. Dominion Energy is moving forward with the wind farm, which will be the second offshore wind farm in the nation and the first owned by an electric utility company. The wind farm is located 27 miles off the shores of Virginia Beach.

At a cost of $10 billion, the project shows the level of investment going into the burgeoning offshore wind industry in the U.S., and could become a model for other projects, Mahan says.

When fully constructed in 2026, the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project will deliver clean, renewable energy to the grid and will avoid millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. The federal permitting review of the project, which includes environmental review, is expected to take about two years, with construction starting in 2024, according to Dominion Energy. Two pilot turbines have been erected, and another 176 are planned. “This will potentially be the largest wind project in the country,” Mahan says.

Workers on a boat lower a buoy into the water.
Breeze Study. As part of the Palmetto Wind Research Project, in 2009, scientists deployed ocean buoys and instruments to capture offshore wind data. Photo by Angela O’Brien-Gayes.
For Gayes, implementing offshore wind is important to combat the effects of climate change. South Carolina needs to take unified steps now, Gayes says, to ensure a future of clean energy to power homes without burning fossil fuels.

The director of the Burroughs & Chapin Center for Marine and Wetland Studies believes that communities need to pay attention to the increasing threats posed by climate change, and to commit to renewable energy sources.

“Climate change is a real concern for a coastal state like South Carolina,” Gayes says. Changing temperatures and rising seas are the existential challenges of our time.

“Either we lead or we go for the ride,” he says.

In 2009, Gayes partnered with Len Pietrafesa, professor emeritus at North Carolina State University, on the Palmetto Wind Research Project—a grant-supported study to test the feasibility of offshore wind. As part of that research project, scientists deployed ocean buoys and instruments to capture offshore wind data.

Another research project conducted from 2014 to 2018, with BOEM funding administered by the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, mapped ocean bottom habitat in one prospective wind energy area near the South Carolina and North Carolina border. Researchers also surveyed a possible cable corridor for the area.

“We are way closer than 10 years ago,” Gayes says about the prospects for viable wind-farm plans for the state’s ocean waters.

Gayes says a combination of offshore and onshore wind is a good mix for the state. Several onshore pilot projects in South Carolina, for instance, could accelerate the process of establishing offshore-wind development—which holds the greater energy-resource potential, Gayes says. A national movement toward offshore wind development and technology is already underway.

“The national transition is now squarely past the point of discussion of future opportunities and potentials to an exciting period of emerging realities,” says Gayes.

Carolina Long Bay Wind Energy Area

Long Bay is a large embayment that lies between Cape Fear, North Carolina, and Cape Romain, South Carolina. This stretch of continental shelf is flat—even well off the coast. It is about 50-60 feet deep and a level terrain, says Monroe Baldwin, a business owner and chair of the North Strand Coastal Wind Team, an advocacy group that is helping spread the word about the potential for offshore wind in the region.

Those physical conditions make it ideal for wind turbine placement, and the U.S. Department of the Interior has focused on an effort to bring a wind farm to the area.

In August 2021, the department’s BOEM announced it would be updating the environmental review of proposed wind leasing options offshore of the Carolinas—clearing the way for a large wind farm on approximately 127,865 acres on the outer continental shelf of Long Bay. In November, the agency announced a proposed lease sale for part of the Carolina Long Bay area, a swath of water that spans the ocean off North Carolina, just north of the border with South Carolina.

The Carolina Long Bay wind energy area is roughly halfway between Wilmington, North Carolina, and North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The area sits in federal waters mostly off the coast of North Carolina, but is diagonally situated from Waties Island, a South Carolina undeveloped island, and the nearby residential and commercial areas of the Grand Strand. The project area has the potential to unlock over 1.5 GW of offshore wind energy and power more than 500,000 homes, according to BOEM. Federal and state officials anticipate a lease to be issued no later than June 30, 2022.

A map.
Wind Potential. South Carolina Call Areas and North Carolina Wind Energy Areas, as designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Map by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

After lengthy review, BOEM has selected this area for offshore wind in a way that avoids, reduces, or mitigates potential impacts to the ocean and to ocean users. Once a lease applicant(s) is selected by the agency, that company will begin an in-depth planning, including studies and characterization of resources specific to the site. In addition to BOEM’s regulatory process, North Carolina and South Carolina environmental officials are conducting a review of the lease sale and anticipated site assessment activities for any foreseeable impacts on state resources. Over the next few years, the lessee will conduct a site assessment and develop a Construction and Operations Plan. It will have up to five years to submit those plans to BOEM.

“If the lease is granted, the successful bidder will be approved to place up to six meteorological buoys and conduct other assessment activities to see if the area is viable for a commercial wind farm. If the company decides to pursue that option, additional environmental assessments and state and federal reviews would be necessary,” says Elizabeth von Kolnitz with the SCDHEC Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.

Baldwin and other members of the North Strand Coastal Wind Team have been proponents of offshore-wind development in the region for a long time.

Baldwin believes the Long Bay project would bring clean energy and economic development expansion to the region. “There would be service technicians going out to service [the turbines],” Baldwin says, which would result in good local jobs. But he also sees tourists and fishers visiting the turbines. “I can see the restaurants paying spearfishers to catch local seafood,” Baldwin says.

Depending on details of the project, it could power homes and wind development in South Carolina, says Gayes.

BOEM completed its environmental review of federal waters for the project and will move ahead with a leasing auction for two leasing areas, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced at the end of March 2022. “That project is on the border [of South Carolina] but it will be an accelerant for other projects,” says Gayes. With the next formal lease sale [by BOEM] for development of wind resources in federal waters being directly off the North Carolina–South Carolina border, that transition from planning to reality is literally at our doorstep and will start to assist South Carolina with jobs and other benefits.”

Upclose view of a wind turbine's blade.
Streamlined. Offshore wind-energy towers use large turbines with blades to harness energy from winds. As the wind blows, it flows over the blades, causing them to spin. Photo by Grace Beahm Alford.
Gayes expects Carolina Long Bay will clear the path for more projects in South Carolina.

Katharine Kollins, president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition, notes that the Long Bay proposed wind farm site stands out for another reason.

A revised project area was specifically identified after wildlife and regulatory officials removed all right whale critical habitat, including calving grounds, which are vital to the health of the species. That change would limit any potential impacts in regard to right whales and bodes well for helping gain support for the project among conservationists.

As the Long Bay project moves closer to fruition, Baldwin is excited about the future for the Myrtle Beach area. “We are on the forefront for wind energy generation for the state,” he says, and envisions a future when renewable wind energy powers much of the area.

Baldwin has been working to prepare the local community for the possibility of offshore wind energy. Baldwin, the director of Myrtle Beach Tours, and fellow advocates hope that whichever company is chosen to lease the offshore acreage and erect turbines would consider connecting that electricity to shore via the substation at Nixon’s Crossroads, the main substation for the Grand Strand.

More Research Underway

How will wind turbines withstand hurricanes and storms? And what possible impacts would wind farms pose to mariners and recreational and commercial fishers? What are the possible cumulative effects from a series of large wind farms in a given area? How will wind farms affect coastal residents?

Specific questions such as these are already the subject of volumes of research. In addition, more research is in progress, and a national effort has been launched by the National Sea Grant College Program to share some of this information.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) works collaboratively with industry and academia to address research challenges that are unique to U.S. offshore wind—such as hurricanes—and to understand and address market barriers, such as environmental impacts, logistical challenges, siting and permitting, and infrastructure development. DOE also is working to demonstrate advanced technologies. For example, it has funded work with the University of Miami to design a new tool used to help engineers create turbine blades and foundations that can better withstand the harsh winds and waves during extreme weather conditions.

Furthermore, a newly created Offshore Wind Energy liaison position funded by the National Sea Grant College Program offers expert assistance for communities and stakeholders about offshore wind.

The Sea Grant Offshore Wind Energy Liaison Initiative is a multi-year project of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant College Program and the DOE, and Rhode Island Sea Grant began work on this in 2021 for the Sea Grant network. The mission is to build the capacity of the National Sea Grant network on issues related to offshore wind energy. Major components include the establishment of the offshore wind Community of Practice and providing targeted technical support to Sea Grant programs so they can assist stakeholders in making more informed decisions. The effort also will enhance collaboration and communication between federal partners and Sea Grant. The project team has developed a website, www.seagrantenergy.org, where both Sea Grant staff and the public can access curated science-based information and tools regarding offshore wind energy in the U.S.

The goal is to ultimately provide stakeholders with impartial information on all aspects of offshore wind energy development, says Jennifer McCann, Rhode Island Sea Grant’s director of Extension and the Sea Grant Offshore Wind Energy liaison. Plans for offshore wind-energy development are unfolding quickly, and residents, fishers, boaters, and others may have many questions.

While the initiative will initially focus on the Northeast U.S., it will broaden its scope to other states. The hope is for the program’s website to become the “library of offshore wind energy” and an objective source to get information, McCann says.

At the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, Katie Finegan, Coastal Processes program specialist, is part of this effort for South Carolina.

A warehouse with equipment.
Test Phase. High-voltage test laboratory with variable frequency generator test equipment at the Nexans plant. This is the largest such laboratory for cable testing in the world. Photo by Capa Pictures for Nexans.

A Manufacturing Hub

At the Nexans plant in Goose Creek on the Cooper River in Berkeley County, giant turntables are used to store tens of miles of continuous cable. The cable is later loaded onto another turntable aboard one of two of the company’s cable laying ships, the Nexans Skagerrak or its flagship vessel the Nexans Aurora, docked at the plant’s commercial wharf.

The newly inaugurated 600,000-square-foot plant recently was converted to manufacture high-voltage subsea power cables, the link that brings energy generated at offshore wind farms to shore, making it the only facility in North America with such a capacity. Cables made here will bring billions of watts of electricity from offshore wind farms to the U.S. electric grid. The first cable produced at the plant has been exported overseas. But starting in 2022, Nexans will produce such cables for offshore wind in the U.S., says Emmanuel Martin-Lauzer, director of Business Development.

This includes an order that was recently placed for subsea cable for the South Fork Wind, a wind farm 35 miles offshore from Montauk Point, New York. The historic project will be New York’s first offshore wind farm and will help reach the state’s clean energy goals. The project is being developed by multinational wind-power leader Ørsted and Eversource, a large utility provider in the Northeast. BOEM approved the Construction and Operations plan of the 132 MW offshore wind project in November 2021. Nexans will produce 68 miles of high-voltage subsea cables for the project.

Looking ahead, France-based Nexans is poised to manufacture and install hundreds of miles of cables for a multitude of projects in the U.S. as the offshore wind market grows and, in the coming decade, that could include projects in the Palmetto State.

Nexans chose the Goose Creek location because of its deepwater location on the Cooper River. “A vessel can pull right up to the factory,” says Brian Boan, director of Transformation and Projects at Nexans.

Because of the length of the cables and the marine environment they will be placed in, the testing process is rigorous at the plant. “Every cable that comes out of the facility is tested during the manufacturing process, and when it is finished it is tested electrically before being loaded onto the ship,” says Boan.

As the current federal administration collaborates with states on the Eastern Seaboard to support its growing offshore wind goals, interest for offshore wind as a renewable option for electricity generation has been increasing among state and municipal officials in the Palmetto State. Kollins, with the Southeastern Wind Coalition, says she believes support for clean energy and economic development will be what is necessary to drive the clear policies that will move offshore wind forward.

Just north of Nexans’ facility, W International, a steel fabricator for the Navy, is drawing plans to produce steel foundations for U.S. offshore wind farms. Such investment into an industrial asset near their existing facility would generate hundreds of new local jobs.

Not far from Nexans and W International, Clemson’s Dominion Energy Innovation Center houses two testing facilities: the Duke Energy eGRID electrical grid simulator and the world’s most advanced wind-turbine drivetrain testing facility capable of full-scale, highly accelerated mechanical and electrical testing.

While offshore wind for South Carolina is viable in the future, the center is already testing today’s wind energy equipment.

The drivetrain testing facility helps engineers design the most efficient and advanced turbines. “We are focused on the technology and the equipment that is located at the site,” of a wind farm, says Crichton with the Innovation Center.

The North Charleston facility was established in 2009, in part thanks to a $45 million federal grant that was, at the time, the U.S. Department of Energy’s largest single grant for wind power. The facility has been testing onshore turbines, but one of two test rigs at the center was designed and built specifically for offshore wind.

A male technician works with cables.
Detail Oriented. James Nemeth adjusts threads during one stage of the armoring process at Nexans subsea cable manufacturing facility. There are six major steps in the production of cables at the Berkeley County, S.C., plant. Photo by Capa Pictures for Nexans.
The Clemson facility tests the drivetrains and gearboxes for turbines. Engineers can put equipment through simulations that test how it would react to a major storm. Furthermore, they can connect the drive test facility to the eGRID simulator to showcase real world scenarios. “We can cause a [strong] wind gust to occur and see what happens to the electrical and mechanical parts of the system,” says Crichton.

Clemson is seeking federal funding to expand the wind turbine testing components at the center, which would allow the facility to test the larger turbines that the offshore wind industry plans to engineer in the near future.

South Carolina also is benefiting from the onshore wind energy business. General Electric’s (GE) Greenville facility serves as GE’s center for its wind design engineering team. GE is the leading wind turbine supplier in North America, with nearly one out of every two installed wind turbines produced by the company.

Continued growth of the U.S. wind industry will benefit the Greenville area and has the potential to lead to more component suppliers locating in South Carolina.
Tremendous momentum has been building in offshore wind over the past year. According to energy industry experts, the boom is just getting started.

Some of that offshore wind-energy growth is likely to happen in South Carolina, and efforts and planning taking place right now can help secure a clean energy future. One of those important measures, says Carnevale with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, is the bill introduced in the S.C. House of Representatives in January 2022. “Offshore wind energy is estimated to be a $100+ billion opportunity in the United States over the next decade,” he says. “A focused economic development study could identify how South Carolinians and local businesses can capture a portion of this market and benefit from the emerging industry.”

If the country pursues the federal government’s goals of 30 GW of wind energy by 2030, “there will be a tremendous amount of job creation pretty much from South Carolina north to Maine,” adds Steve Warner, Clemson University’s vice president of Corporate Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives. From turbine foundations to maintenance, such as changing the oil in the turbine’s gear box, technicians will have to keep a new system going, Warner says.

Clemson and other universities and technical colleges across the entire state have a unique opportunity to train these individuals, establish apprenticeship programs, and increase career opportunity pathways for a new workforce.


Six Facts About Offshore Wind Energy

  • Wind turbines are very tall. In order to capture the abundant wind resources available offshore, turbines can be scaled up to one-and-a-half-times the height of the Washington Monument (555 feet), with blades the length of a football field.
  • Offshore wind turbine components are transported by ships and barges, reducing some of the logistical challenges that land-based wind components encounter, such as narrow roadways or tunnels. This method of marine transport enables offshore wind developers to build larger turbines capable of producing more electricity; however, working at sea presents its own challenges.
  • In many areas where offshore wind projects are planned, offshore wind speeds are highest during the afternoon and evening, when consumer demand is at its peak. Most land-based wind resources are stronger at night, when electricity demands are lower.
  • Electricity produced by offshore wind turbines travels back to land through a series of cable systems that are buried in the seafloor.
  • Nearly 80 percent of the nation’s electricity demand occurs in the coastal and Great Lakes areas—where more than 50 percent of Americans live. Wind turbines off coastlines use shorter transmission lines to connect to the power grid than many common sources of electricity.
  • Wind turbines can be anchored by conventional foundations—large steel pilings or lattice structures fixed to the seabed. Turbines in deeper waters may use floating offshore wind platforms.

Source: Wind Energy Technologies Office, U.S. Department of Energy


A Step Forward

A proposed joint state resolution calls for a study that would analyze the economic benefits of bringing offshore wind to South Carolina. The bill, introduced in the S.C. House of Representatives on January 20, 2022, would direct the South Carolina Department of Commerce “…to conduct an economic development study to evaluate the state’s business advantages, economic climate, workforce readiness, and other relevant state assets to create a roadmap to effectively compete in attracting offshore wind energy supply chain industries to the state… .”

The bill would result in an economic impact study that would build upon a study conducted in 2012 by Clemson University. As of the press deadline for this issue of Coastal Heritage, the bill was forwarded from the House Committee on Labor, Commerce, and Industry, and the full House of Representatives voted 85-21 in favor. The bill was then sent on to the Senate.

“This is a step in the right direction,” says Katharine Kollins, president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition. “It will help people understand one aspect—the economic development potential—of offshore wind.”

Kollins says the study could provide clarity on the manufacturing and supply chain benefits, as federal officials move forward with the Carolina Long Bay wind lease and early discussions for other projects take place, including important research and assessments regarding the best placements for wind farms.

“There is no doubt that this will make more people in the state aware of wind and that in and of itself is a good thing,” adds Kollins.

Board of Directors Elects Chair and Vice-Chair

Clemson University Provost Dr. Robert H. Jones was elected chairman of S.C. Sea Grant Consortium’s Board of Directors and S.C. Department of Natural Resources Director Robert H. Boyles, Jr. was elected vice-chairman by unanimous votes on November 29, 2021. Both one-year terms began on January 1, 2022.

“I look forward to continued guidance from Dr. Jones as chairman of the Consortium’s Board of Directors. His leadership provides me with an invaluable perspective of the work ahead,” said Dr. Susan Lovelace, executive director of the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium. “And I am delighted to have Mr. Boyles join the leadership as vice-chairman and look forward to continuing to work together to meet the diverse needs of our state.”

More details and biographical information.

Francis Marion University Joins Consortium

Francis Marion University’s (FMU) membership application to the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium was unanimously approved by the Board of Directors at its annual meeting on November 29, 2021.

“On behalf of the Consortium’s Board of Directors and staff, I welcome Francis Marion University as our ninth member institution,” said Dr. Robert H. Jones, board chairman of the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium and provost at Clemson University. “We look forward to working with FMU to advance vital coastal research, education, and outreach, and to continue the 41-year legacy of the Consortium’s service to the state of South Carolina.”

Located in Florence, S.C., FMU was founded in 1970 and offers undergraduate, master, and doctoral degree programs. FMU’s biology department includes the newly opened Freshwater Ecology Center (FEC) on 146 acres. It is here that the Pee Dee region’s next generation of natural resource professionals will conduct research and study fishery science, water quality, flooding, biodiversity, invasive species, and other areas of interest.

“Francis Marion University is proud to join our institutional partners in the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium,” said Dr. Fred Carter, president of Francis Marion University. “Since its founding, FMU has worked to serve the people of this region of South Carolina in a variety of ways. Maintaining and improving the natural beauty and resources this area has to offer has been an important part of that mission, and grows in importance with each passing year.”

“Through the new Freshwater Ecology Center and other programs, Francis Marion University’s watershed perspective—from upland freshwater through estuarine transition to the coast—aligns well with our Sea Grant mission,” said Dr. Susan Lovelace, executive director of S.C. Sea Grant Consortium.

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Consortium Awards Funds for Biennial Projects

The Consortium selected nine peer-reviewed research and workforce development proposals for the 2022-2024 funding cycle. These projects are among the research, extension, communications, and education efforts supported by funds from the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program.

Following are the titles and principle investigators for the proposals.

Healthy Coastal Ecosystems

Rain and Tide: Assessing Coastal Stream Flow and Compound Flooding Risk.
Tim Callahan, College of Charleston

Coastal and Estuarine Acidification in Long Bay, South Carolina.
Angelos Hannides, Coastal Carolina University

How Does Disturbance Shape Avian Community Composition and Diversity in Ephemeral Wetlands?
Daniel McGlinn, College of Charleston

Sustainable Coastal Development and Economy

Evaluating Nitrogen Removal Strategies to Improve Stormwater Management Practices in Coastal South Carolina.
Annie Bourbonnais, University of South Carolina

On Borrowed Time: Age as a Predictor of Phosphorus Mobility in Coastal Stormwater Ponds and Implications for Management.
Debabrata Sahoo, Clemson University

Guiding Successful Applications of Floating Treatment Wetlands in Brackish Coastal Ponds.
Bill Strosnider, University of South Carolina

Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture

Refining Assessments of Reproductive Activity in White Shrimp (Penaeus setiferus) to Improve Management Decisions.
Michael Kendrick, S.C. Department of Natural Resources

Physiological Effects of Age and Temperature on Blood Chemistry, Metabolism, and Mortality of Harvested Horseshoe Crabs, Limulus Polyphemus.
Daniel Sasson, S.C. Department of Natural Resources

Scientific Literacy and Workforce Development

Navigating Coastal Conservation Careers.
Julie Binz, S.C. Department of Natural Resources

Current Research Projects

Consortium Documents Resilience Planning Efforts

In order to compile a knowledge base of resilience planning efforts, the Consortium has created a repository of 257 documents from South Carolina state agencies, counties, municipalities, academic institutions, NGOs, and private companies. The listing includes a variety of comprehensive, transportation, and green-infrastructure plans, as well as plans related to climate vulnerability, hazard mitigation, and stormwater management.

The repository is nearly complete, and it will be updated on a regular basis. Taylor Allred, the Consortium’s resilience graduate assistant, is leading the project, which is expected to support the S.C. Office of Resilience with the development of the first statewide resilience plan.

View the Archive

New Grant Supports Workforce Development

The Consortium recently received funds from the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program for the project titled, “Developing a Blueprint for a Southeast Regional Fisheries and Aquaculture Training Center.”

Partners on the grant include the Town of McClellanville, McClellanville Community Foundation, McClellanville Watermen’s Association, Clemson University, and Robin Payne Consulting.
Funds will allow for the development of a training center blueprint that would address fisheries workforce training needs in the Southeast U.S. Leading up to the blueprint, partners will hold workshops and focus groups with commercial fishers, and coordinate a learning exchange program with an existing training center.

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