Southern eyes Georgia offshore lease

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is making progress on Southern Company’s request for a five-year “interim policy lease” to further research wind resource in three blocks off Georgia’s coast near Tybee Island, officials tell Recharge.

Southern Company and subsidiary George Power want to conduct research likely using buoy-mounted Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) technology. The study will determine whether wind resource there could justify installation of wind turbines.

The three blocks are located 4.8km to 17.7km from Tybee Island, a popular resort destination also known as Savannah Beach.

While Georgia has one of the smaller coastlines along the US east coast, Southern Company has been evaluating the feasibility of offshore wind generation there since 2005.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates at a depth of 30 meters or less, Georgia has 13.4GW of potential wind energy resource in federal waters within 22km from shore.

BOEM is reviewing and evaluating comments received during a public comment period that ended 2 May for an environmental assessment the agency prepared in the areas in response to the lease application.

It covers impacts of conducting site assessment and site characterization activities within those blocks.

Once completing the review, BOEM will determine whether to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact or conduct additional analysis under the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Officials tell Recharge that BOEM must also conclude all mandate consultations before issuing a lease.

Remaining ones are with the National Marine Fisheries Service, a federal agency, and a process that ensures that BOEM (and other federal agencies) conduct its activities in a manner consistent with Georgia’s coastal management program. This is done under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act.

BOEM expects to complete this process in the fourth quarter.

Jeannice Hall, a spokeswoman for Southern Company, among the largest US electric utilities, says it is committed to a full portfolio of energy resources including renewables, natural gas, nuclear, energy efficiency and “21 century coal.”

“We will continue to evaluate the best and most cost effective power generation resources for customers,” she says.

Georgia Power, which is aggressively adding solar power to its energy mix, is also looking at potentially harnessing onshore wind in the north Georgia mountains. Georgia has no installed wind generation capacity.

It expects to place two turbines of less than 100kW in the mountains by mid-2015 as part of a demonstration study of onshore wind.