Mississippi's potential for wind power generation is relatively small given the available consistent wind energy in our state. The U.S. Department of Energy classifies wind energy areas as classes 1 to 7, with seven possessing the greatest wind speed and wind density. Class 3 winds are considered to be the minimum required for effective wind power generation.
The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory publishes a Wind Resource Map that details the various levels of potential wind energy available around the country. As shown in the map to the left, most of the eastern half of the United States, with the exception of coastal and a few mountainous areas are unsuitable for wind power based on this data.
In an effort to explore the possibilities that do exist in the Southeast, Southern Company and Georgia Tech recently completed a study of the feasibility of generating electricity from wind off the coast of Georgia.
Results of the study, entitled "Southern Winds: Summary Project Report 2007", show that current wind turbine technology is insufficient to economically harvest the wind resources available there. The viability of a wind project in this location is further hampered by higher construction costs for offshore installations and the risk of wind farm destruction from hurricane-force winds sometimes encountered on Georgia's southern coasts.
While the Southeast in general does not have sufficient wind speeds to effectively support wind power generation, the study found the conditions are better starting about five miles off the Georgia coast, with average wind speeds of about 16-17 mph. These "Class 4" winds have been used in other areas of the country for land-based wind farms but offshore wind resources must be greater to overcome the higher construction and operational costs.
Furthermore, the wind resources off the Georgia coast are lowest - and well below the operating range of existing wind turbines - during the summer months when the electricity is needed most.
The study concluded that based on today's prices for wind turbines, the 20-year levelized cost of electricity produced from an offshore wind farm would be significantly higher than the current production costs from existing power generation facilities.
Mississippi Power and Southern Company will continue to pursue the potential development of wind energy and to monitor the area's wind resources. Should the economic, regulatory and technological hurdles be overcome — and if the communities we serve are supportive — we will explore the possibility of developing wind energy for our customers.