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Officials at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island hope they can turn the area's coastal breezes into a reliable energy source for the 95-year-old base.
Using a 200-foot meteorological tower hoisted into place last month, depot officials are testing whether winds on Parris Island gust strongly enough to one day help power the base.
"Being at Parris Island, the ocean is just right off the tip," said Richard Pierce, Parris Island's energy manager. "We're hoping that those coastal breezes give us some potential. We may or may not have the resources to do it here, but we're hoping we do."
The tower is on loan for a year from the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Naval Facilities Engineering Command.
Anemometers and wind vanes are
affixed to the steel tower to measure wind speed and direction at varying heights. The data will be studied by Pierce and others to determine whether there is enough wind to justify building wind turbines on Parris Island.
Most wind turbines, which stand between 300 and 400 feet tall, need sustained winds of about 12 mph to produce energy, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Pierce said the base consumes about 10 megawatt hours each day in the summer, which is about as much as the average American home consumes in a year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Pierce said depot officials are looking for alternative energy sources in part because Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has said Navy and Marine Corps bases must get half their power from renewable energy sources by 2020.
Projects exploring the potential of solar, geothermal and tidal energy also are being considered.
"We've got to explore all of the possibilities," Pierce said.
Parris Island isn't the only place in South Carolina or the Beaufort area where researchers are examining the potential of wind energy.
Industrial technology students at the Technical College of the Lowcountry raised an
85-foot wind turbine Friday at the school's Beaufort campus.
The Clemson University Restoration Institute is expected to break ground next week on a $98 million wind-turbine test lab on the former Charleston Navy Base.
Peter Hull, the institute's communications director, said wind power could play an important role in South Carolina's energy future, given a study released last week by the S.C. Offshore Wind Collaborative. The organization found that South Carolina's coastal winds could power 1 million homes.
"Wind farms off the East Coast enjoy enormous natural resources, and their locations would mean the electricity they generate could be brought directly back to the coastal demand centers," Hull said. "More and more people are moving to the coast, especially to the Southeast, so the demand continues to grow."