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Blowing in a new direction
Regional offshore wind advocates take the job-creation tack
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When education and workshops aren’t enough, throw a party.

That’s the strategy behind the Tybee Island Offshore Wind Energy Rally, a music and food–filled festival happening this Friday, August 31.

Hosted by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Sierra Club, the rally is meant to rev up enthusiasm for offshore wind as a renewable energy resource — and for its capacity to create jobs.

“This is a departure from our usual tactics,” says SACE’s Anna Swit. “But we want to get the message out that wind works for Georgia.”

It seems like a fairly easy sell: Offshore wind power—collected from giant turbines built anywhere between three and 200 miles out to sea—is the second leading source of renewable electricity in the world has been lauded as a sustainable way to meet the growing energy demands on the coast. In order to close the gap between the U.S. and countries already utilizing offshore wind, the Obama administration has streamlined the permitting process and made significant leaps towards the lease of four potential wind farms off the coasts of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia.

It has not been lost on those in the business sector that those big turbines are made up of over 8000 components, many of which are already or can be manufactured in Georgia. With its 105 miles of coastline, Georgia has the fourth largest offshore wind potential on the Atlantic seaboard.

Yet the in the halls of the state capitol, the air is barely moving.

“Georgia is one of the only coastal states that it not pursuing offshore wind development,” laments Seth Gunning of the Georgia Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “We’re missing out on the 21st century green economy.”

Ten governors—including South Carolina’s Nikki Haley—signed on to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium in 2010. A representative for Georgia governor Nathan Deal said at the time that Georgia might eventually join the consortium, but that “wind energy is not the state’s top priority when it comes to renewable energy.”

In spite of the lack of state support for offshore wind, Southern Company sponsored a Georgia Tech feasibility study in 2007 and tagged Tybee Island as an ideal location for Georgia’s first offshore wind farm. The Georgia Wind Working Group, the Sierra Club and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy have continued to advocate for the cause, hosting local workshops and lectures.

Now it’s time to generate what Tybee Island city council member Paul Wolffe a “groundswell” that legislators in Atlanta can no longer ignore.

“Coal and nuclear energy are the biggest water hogs in the state, responsible for over fifty percent of groundwater withdrawal,” says Wolffe. “Long term, offshore wind is our best renewable resource, and other states get it.”

He adds that offshore wind is an opportunity to weave both economic and environmental solutions:

“This is about job creation. We can manufacture those turbine components for the rest of the country right here in Georgia instead of having them shipped across the Atlantic. We can compete.”

Wolffe and Tybee mayor Jason Buelterman have long supported a progressive stance on environmental concerns and energy conservation, which has translated in recent years into a geothermal heating/cooling system for City Hall and the library, the installation of smart thermostats and light fixtures and a Climate Adaptation plan for the city in the face of continued sea level rises.

Wolffe also describes a plan to get Tybee Island completely off the grid using a combination of offshore wind, onshore wind and solar and sell the power surplus back to the state.

But first, the state has to get on board.

“We have over thirty manufacturers who could create tens of thousands of jobs,” reminds the Sierra Club’s Gunning. “We need to call on our elected leaders to pursue those resources.”

To that end, Rep. Jack Kingston has been invited to Friday’s Wind Rally at the Tybee Pier & Pavilion along with state representative Buddy Carter. But the real intent is meant to fire up folks who haven’t considered alternative energy as a job creator. SACE’s Swit hopes that the rock n’ roll from the Train Wrecks and free food from Brighter Day and Papa’s Barbecue will inspire people to learn more and perhaps add their names to the tens of thousands of signatures to petitions calling for Georgia to enter the offshore wind game.

“We’ve got strong support,” says Swit. “Now we just need the leadership in Atlanta to listen.”

Tybee Island Offshore Wind Rally

When: Friday, Aug. 31 6–9 p.m.

Where: Tybee Island Pier & Pavilion

Cost: Free