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TANGIER ISLAND: Windfarm potential exists, expert says

TANGIER ISLAND – With its predictable breezes, open water and connection to the regional power grid, the waters surrounding this small Chesapeake Bay island may be uniquely suited to hosting a small wind farm, a James Madison University professor feels.

Jonathan Miles, a professor of engineering and energy technologies, on Friday met for the first time publicly with town leadership to discuss the opportunities of placing small wind turbines on the island or larger turbines just offshore.

Miles directs a state grant awarded to the university and designed to help identify opportunities and feasibility for wind power in Virginia. He has been to Tangier a half-dozen times and found the audience for Friday’s talk receptive.

He said his role is not infrastructure development but to explore possibilities and gather information so that prospective developers considering it would be better informed.

“We’re looking at Tangier and we’re trying to get a sense of whether it would be an appropriate location,” he said in a telephone interview. “We’re looking at all options.”

While some embrace wind energy as an environmentally friendly concept, others fear its aesthetic impact. Miles said proposals for offshore wind farms have been made all along the East Coast to a variety of reactions. One proposal was made for the Atlantic coast of the Eastern Shore of Virginia several years ago, but the concept, Miles said, “didn’t get very far” and was “a little bit premature.”

Miles described Tangier’s natural winds as “steady and predictable and strong,” and its link to the mainland power supplier A&N Electric Cooperative means it could export the resource.

Whoever developed the plan could serve the island and sell some to help on the mainland grid, he said.

“That depends entirely on the business model,” he said, adding that the project’s success “may depend entirely upon how the town is involved in this.”

Further talks will be planned with ANEC and other stakeholders, he said, possibly including state agencies and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“This has never been done before,” he said. “What we need to do is reach out to all the different organizations that would have some sort of an interest in a project like this.”

He admitted that the project’s success may depend on the involvement of the town, which is accessible by plane and passenger ferry and has a population of about 600.

“I think it’s great,” said Town Manager Renee Tyler of the concept. “It’s up to the people, I guess, from here on out.”

By Ted Shockley

The Daily Times

13 November 2007