Virginia regulators on Tuesday approved what could be the first offshore wind turbine built in the United States.
The prototype turbine would stand 479 feet tall and be located in the lower Chesapeake Bay, about three miles from Cape Charles on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. It would generate five megawatts of electricity, enough for about 1,250 households.
Pending approval of the U.S. Coast Guardand Army Corps of Engineers, construction could be finished by late 2013, according to a statement from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office.
“This is an important next step in developing all of Virginia’s domestic energy resources to help power our nation’s economy and puts Virginia at the forefront of clean energy technology development,” McDonnell said.
There are a handful of offshore wind farms in Europe and Asia, but none in the U.S.
One project, Cape Wind off the coast of Massachusetts, has been approved, but construction of the 130-turbine farm isn’t scheduled to begin until 2013.
The Virginia effort, a partnership between Spanish-firm Gamesa and Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., has been in the works since 2010. Engineers are developing the turbine in an office park in Chesapeake.
Expected to run at least 20 years, the turbine could provide insight into how to reduce costs of offshore wind power. While promoted by Democrats and Republicans, the industry has been slow to take off in the U.S.
That’s partly because of decreasing prices of natural gas. Large discoveries of the fossil fuel buried deep in shale formations has led power companies, including Dominion Virginia Power, to invest in natural-gas power plants. A 200-megawatt wind farm off Delaware’s coast was scrapped in December due, in part, to inexpensive natural gas.
The Obama administration, noting it took nearly a decade to approve Cape Wind, has vowed to hasten the process for future wind farms.
The Department of Interior announced in February that wind turbines off the coast of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey would pose no serious environmental or socioeconomic threats. It also asked companies interested in building offshore wind farms to submit letters of interest.
Virginia officials previously identified a 113,000-acre zone off Virginia Beach they say could produce about 10 percent of the state’s electricity demand.