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By Phil Noble
Berkeley Independent
October 4, 2012

With apologies to Bob Dylan, a big part of our state’s energy and economic future is literally blowing in the wind. The question is, will we harness this wind to blow us toward a better future, or will our political leadership just blow this opportunity.

Recently, a group of 45+ respected national and regional organizations came together to develop the definitive analysis of the potential for wind energy on the East Coast. It had a status report on each state’s progress, including South Carolina.

The lengthy title of the study says it all ”The Turning Point for Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy: Time for Action to Create Jobs, Reduce Pollution, Protect Wildlife and Secure America’s Energy Future.”

The good news is that the report found that South Carolina is well positioned to take advantage of the potential huge payoff in jobs, new homegrown energy sources and a cleaner environment. The bad news is that South Carolina is falling behind other states and unless we act soon, we will lose out to other states along the Eastern seaboard.

First, a personal perspective. Over the last ten years or so, my business has regularly taken me to Europe, particularly to the Scandinavian countries, and I have seen first-hand how Europe is far ahead of the US in developing wind resources. Currently, wind power is the fastest growing energy source in Europe.

My firm has worked with a Swedish based company called Vattenfall; they are one of the world’s leading developers of wind power and they currently operate 900 wind powered turbines in in six countries, including the world’s largest offshore wind farm off the coast of Scotland.

What I have learned is that perhaps the single most important determinant of success is whether or not there is the bold political leadership required to push through such wind projects to success. If the natural resources and technology are available – and they are in South Carolina – then strong public leadership can make all the difference. Having committed leaders that understand what is at stake and are willing to move aggressively makes all the difference between success and failure.

And, we have had some success in South Carolina, but not near enough.

Example # 1 – Few people know this, but the largest manufacturer of windmill turbines in the US is based at the General Electric facilities in Upstate South Carolina.

Yep, we produce wind mills, but we do not have a single windmill in operation in the state – not one.

Example # 2 – With a number of other partners, Clemson University is building a mammoth facility at the old Charleston Navy Base to test windmill drive trains. The new facility was put together with about $100 million in financing from the US Department of Energy and private investors and when it is finished, this testing facility will be the most advanced facility of its type in the world.

South Carolina as world class in something – there’s an idea you don’t hear much these days.

Example # 3 – These assets are not just about creating energy, they are about creating jobs as part of a whole new wind energy based economic cluster. A US Department of Energy study predicted that by 2030 the wind tunnel project alone will create over 20,000 new jobs in our state – and these are good, well paying, high tech jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

The biggest problem we have today is a lack of bold political leadership that is committed to taking advantage of this unique opportunity. What’s worse is that some of our politicians are actually putting roadblocks in the way.

Leadership starts at the top with Gov. Haley. As a condition of the $100 million federal wind tunnel grant, the state had to come up with $10 million as our part of the project. Not once but twice did Gov. Haley try and kill the deal by refusing to support the funding. Our Governor says she was an accountant so you would think that she would understand the math – put in one dollar, get back nine more.

Beyond Gov. Haley, the whole state government effort to obtain the needed federal permits for constructing windmills has been weak and slow. The Turning Point study identifies a nine step process that a state needs to follow – South Carolina has only completed the first step; our competitor states are already working on step six.

So, back to Bob Dylan. The question is, will the politicians recognize that we have a huge opportunity to do something truly great for our state with enormous benefits for years to come – or will they simply leave the opportunity “blowing in the wind?”

For our children’s sake, I hope the politicians don’t blow it.