Because of the convergence of a number of factors – God, global economics and good luck – South Carolina is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the emerging global wind industry, unless our politicians blow it. And they may.
Let’s start with God. The good Lord created a natural environment that makes our state ideal for the development of the wind energy industry. Just off our coast, up around our border with North Carolina, the ocean winds blow at consistent speeds that may be ideal for windmills that generate electricity. Plus, the ocean is not very deep in this area, thus making it fairly easy to build stable windmills in relatively shallow water.
Second, anyone that can read a news paper understands that development of wind and other alternative energy sources is vital to our counties long-term security, both economic and physical. Oil and terrorists are principal exports of the same region.
Third, in South Carolina today, we have the technology, know-how and manufacturing base to be a leader in the global wind industry. This is not some pie-in-the-sky, ‘maybe in the future’ idea. I’m talking right here, right now.
Pop Quiz – Where is the largest manufacturer of windmill turbines in the US? Answer: Upstate South Carolina.
The General Electric facilities there are among the best in the world, but we do not have a single windmill in the state – zero, none, nada.
The good news is that this may be changing and the potential is huge, unless the politicians screw it up.
With a number of other public and private sector partners, Clemson University is building a mammoth facility at the old Charleston Navy Base to test windmill drive trains. The drive train is the key component that takes the energy created by the turning windmill blades and increases the speed to generate electricity. It functions much like the transmission in a car.
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 advance 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.
The potential is not just to build a few windmills; the potential is to become a new global hub for the entire wind industry. Given the potential for easy exports through the Port of Charleston, the right testing facilities will attract other wind-related companies and manufactures from around the world to come to the region. It is the same concept that has worked so well with Clemson, BMW and the growth of the automotive industry in the Upstate.
In fact, the concept has already started working. Recently, the IMO Group, a Germany-based alternative energy company, announced they would make a $47 million investment in a Dorchester County plant that will create 190 jobs.
Now here’s the problem we have with the politicians in all this. In short, they just don’t get it. They don’t understand the potential and refuse to help. It is bad enough that we don’t have any significant political leadership pushing this idea, but they are actually making things worse.
As a condition of the federal 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.
She is always talking about what she is doing to create jobs, but here she’s essentially killing jobs. The U.S. Department of Energy study predicted that by 2030 the project would create over 20,000 new jobs in our state – and these are good, well paying, high tech jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.
So here we are again: another narrow minded politician lets their knee jerk radical ideological dislike for Washington endanger the potential for a new and important high-tech industry that will create tens of thousands of jobs.
Politicians in South Carolina are famous for blowing a lot of hot air that has no impact. For once we have the opportunity to harness some wind that can make a difference. If the politicians wise up – they could help propel our state to a world class status.