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Off shore wind farm leasing could begin this year  

Credit:  By Alissa Smith
, Virginia Statehouse News
, www.leesburg2day.com 26 April 2011 ~~

RICHMOND-Gov. Bob McDonnell’s goal of Virginia being the “energy capital of the east coast” may be further off than he hopes.

Though in the early stages of development, offshore wind farms are a significant part of McDonnell’s energy goals said McDonnell’s press secretary Jeff Caldwell.

“We should take advantage of the natural resources that Virginia holds, offshore of Virginia and the east coast has a unique geographic wind topography,” Caldwell said.

However, offshore wind development deals more with the federal government, than with the governor’s desire to see it done.

According to Maureen Matsen, deputy secretary of Natural Resources, the state has very little to do with the regulations of the wind farms in the ocean as Virginia’s boundary reaches only three miles offshore.

Past three miles off the shore of Virginia is federal water.

Because Virginia’s involvement in the creation of wind farm regulations is limited, Al Christopher, director of the Division of Energy at the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, said that any regulations would most likely come from the federal government, since the farms will be between 12-20 miles out on the continental shelf.

Director of Research at Virginia Costal Energy Research Consortium, George Hagerman, said that while it is BOEMRE, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, that will be making the regulations, Virginia has an input through an intergovernmental task force.

According to a news release the bureau hopes to begin leasing at the end of 2011 or beginning of 2012.

“The task force has helped by working with BOEMRE regarding the area designed for leasing and working closely with the Virginia Maritime Association and the Virginia Pilots Association as well as the Secretary of Defense,” said Hagerman.

He added that the task force is just governmental entities – there are no private groups involved.

Hagerman said “any thing within state waters-including the submarine cable that would connect the grid to the shore” would be under state jurisdiction.

Consideration has been given to the area within the Virginia offshore jurisdiction, however experts agree that the real wind power is farther out to sea, and the closer to shore more issues arise regarding shipping and the military.

Remy Luerssen, director of education for Virginia Center for Wind Energy, said that there are 26 areas in federal water that could be leased from the federal government that would fit the criteria for construction.

Off shore wind power might become one of the major providers of energy in the state particularly in the area off of Virginia Beach. Luerssen said that if only 10 percent of the leased federal areas were used, almost 11 percent of Virginia’s electricity could be produced.

Hagerman said that the area off Virginia could hold around 1,000 turbines, which would be an economic advantage for the state by creating jobs and putting money into the economy.

However, according to Bill Hayden, spokesmen for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “it’s really just too early in the process” to say what could happen with offshore wind-regarding policy or economically.

Once the transmission lines from the farms reach three miles from land, Christopher said, the regulations will come from the state.

Matsen said that Dominion Power has been researching building a singular transmission line from the wind farms to the shore-which would cut down on initial costs for companies building the farms.

Dominion Power does have a study underway that they hope to will be finished by the end of this year, Jim Norvelle, director of Media Relations for Dominion, said.

The study will be looking at the plausibility of having this transmission line, but also at how Virginia would be able to sustain it.

“The infrastructure for offshore wind in the country just does not exist, which is what our study will look at,” Norvelle said. “Our study may look at job creation. It could create jobs, but we just don’t know how many.”

Regardless of the policies and money that would be attached to any offshore wind project Luerssen said, “if the impacts are too great we’ll shut them down”.

She said that the only offshore turbine research comes from Europe and that it cannot be applied directly to the environment off the Virginia shore – the ecology is too different.

“The Europe studies show that the animals are scared off during construction, but that they came back once finished,” Luerssen said. “People building the wind farms don’t want to destroy the environment.”

But the destruction of the environment is exactly what many of the arguments against the construction of wind farms-both onshore and offshore.

 Speaking on his private research, Rick Webb, a senior research scientist in the Environmental Science Department at the University of Virginia, said that his concerns about wind power in general involve the environmental impact the construction can have.

“I think the wind energy and national policymakers are right to put their attention to offshore in the east, that’s where the wind resource is,” Webb said. “But the ecological issues need to be addressed.”

He argued that the design requires an anchoring to the ocean floor either by drilling the turbine into the ocean floor or by having the turbine float with a cabled anchor attaching it to the ocean floor.

Both of which, Web argues interrupts the natural ecological system. However he is also concerned with what occurs above the water, with the turbines themselves.

“The turbine is a bit of an illusion, the blades are moving at well over 100 miles an hour, birds are routinely killed by turbine blades,” Webb said.

Source:  By Alissa Smith
, Virginia Statehouse News
, www.leesburg2day.com 26 April 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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