As Windpower 2012 is winding down, I sat in on one of the last sessions, which discussed challenges and opportunities facing offshore wind energy across the globe. As it turns out, one of the most interesting markets for wind developers is going to be the American Southeast, despite appearances.

Currently, the Southeast gets about 47% of its energy from coal, with another 34% supplied by nuclear power and 13% by natural gas. Thus, the Southeast imports almost 90% of its energy needs. In fact, Georgia and North Carolina are not only the two largest coal importers in the country, they also use roughly the same amount of electricity that New York does – with double their population. 

So the Southeast has massive energy needs – none of which are currently being met on a regional level. Nevertheless, the region has a surprisingly strong wind sector. Despite having exactly zero MW of utility-scale wind installed as of 2012, the region is still host to between 5000 and 9000 wind power-related jobs. Its business-friendly reputation works to its benefit here, as does the fact that a recent study found that about 80% of the offshore wind potential in the United States is concentrated in the Southeast thanks to relatively shallow water conditions.

Brian O’ Hara, who presented all this data, argued that the combination of a business-friendly climate, great offshore wind potential, low labour and construction costs and finally a huge electricity demand that is in dire need of more local sources, make the Southeast ripe for offshore wind development. I'd have been interested to see a regional politician's response to this. Certainly, the area's lack of wind-friendly legislation is a reason why there is no current installed capacity, but, with the promise of new jobs, could there be? The potential is there, and if there's one thing the South needs, it's new tax revenue. On the other hand, why invest in an area that just isn't interested? Wind investors may find they have an uphill battle to climb on this one.

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