With 237 MW of installed capacity and another 583 MW under development, the Southeastern U.S. may be beginning to shed its image as a region plagued by low wind resources.
Thanks in part to taller towers and longer blades, such technological advances have opened up areas in the region that were considered off limits, explains Katharine Kollins, president at the Southeastern Wind Coalition (SEWC).
As the Southeast works to reshape its image into a land of possibility (if not opportunity), the wind industry must solve three primary development barriers: development, price and perception.
The first barrier, says Kollins, is that the Southeast has a lower wind resource than in other parts of the country, but “we don’t have the technology yet to build projects that big in an economic way.”
“This is a wind industry problem, but it’s really the key to unlocking wind in the Southeast,” she explains.
For its part, SEWC is working with utilities and private companies to look at how to not only build taller towers more economically but also verify that “the resource is really as good as we believe it is at 140 meters and above,” adds Kollins.
In most places in the Southeast, the price of electricity is much lower than in other places across the country. There are a few exceptions, Kollins explains, but currently, it is hard to build a project that competes with other generation sources.
“Part of the way to deal with this is to address the first barrier to allow for more economically viable projects,” she says, noting that another solution is attracting more large commercial and industrial (C&I) customers with renewable energy goals. She says such C&I customers are a huge driver of demand for renewable energy: “It is one of the reasons the Amazon Wind Farm was built.”
The third hurdle may be the most difficult – and yet the most important to address.
“Wind isn’t a known commodity in the Southeast like it is across the rest of the country,” Kollins says. “Most state and local governments haven’t had to deal with wind farms, and if you’ve spent your entire life in the Southeast, odds are you haven’t seen one in person.”
She continues, “Opponents of wind energy – or renewables in general – also recognize this and want to use this opportunity to cast wind in a negative light with local residents before they even need to consider having a wind turbine in their community. The way to solve this is through proactive, transparent engagement with elected officials at the state level all the way down to individual citizens.
“Whether it’s us, a developer or a utility, using credible information and looking to inform instead of persuade are what will really be the biggest long-term benefits for wind in the region.”
Lastly, given the presence of giant utilities in the region, the organization is working with multiple utilities to strategize on how to reduce ratepayer costs, increase job growth and bring economic development benefits to the region.
The SEWC says enabling a coordinated, regional approach will accomplish the following:
- Allow for larger-scale deployment, improving economies of scale and reducing cost;
- Accommodate longer-term, more predictable development plans, reducing cost;
- Improve supply-chain efficiency and stability by avoiding boom-and-bust cycles; and
- Attract and retain new supply chain and manufacturing jobs.