Nearly 112,800 acres off the coast of Virginia are set to be auctioned in September for wind energy development – the second such competitive lease sale in the country, the federal government announced Monday.
The move was praised by federal and state officials and environmental groups for its potential to create jobs, strengthen the country’s energy security and competitiveness and develop large-scale clean energy projects.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell called the auction “an important transition from planning to action (in) capturing the enormous clean energy potential offered by Atlantic wind.”
Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office said it is “an exciting and significant step in our bipartisan effort to advance Virginia’s ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy.”
Eight companies are prequalified to bid, including Dominion Virginia Power, which is both the largest power company in the state and the largest participant in the auction.
Environmentalists applauded the long-awaited move toward clean energy, but said they worry that if Dominion wins the company might “drag its feet” in fully developing the lease area.
Beth Kemler, Virginia state director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, noted the “lackadaisical timetable for offshore wind development that company officials have expressed in the past. We don’t want the company to buy up the whole lease block and then sit on it for years and years.”
And Glen Besa, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, urged that the winning bidder, which he said would likely be Dominion, “be required to move forward with offshore wind development without delay.”
He said Dominion has three natural gas plants at various stages of development and plans to add another reactor to its North Anna nuclear power station in Louisa County, and so might decide it doesn’t need offshore wind power.
“So we’re very concerned Dominion would bid on this project, be very slow to implement it because of other projects it’s got and slow the development of offshore wind in Virginia,” said Besa.
According to Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle, an optimistic timetable for development – should the company win the bid – would be unlikely to have construction start before 2021.
Prior to that, he said, the winning bidder must leap various procedural hurdles: submit a site assessment by early 2014 and a construction and operations plan later that year, complete surveys within three years after that, then submit the work for federal review, which could take another three years.
Infrastructure readiness is yet another challenge, he said.
“There’s more to it than just placing turbines in the water,” said Norvelle. “The private sector will have to supply the ships, the submarine power cables, etc. No one knows today when these will happen or where they will come from.”
Another unknown is the potential impact on customers, he said, since offshore wind turbines are considered one of the most expensive ways to generate electricity.
The acreage is part of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf located 23.5 nautical miles from Virginia Beach, and reportedly has the potential to generate enough turbine-generated electricity to supply about 700,000 homes. The area is being offered as a single block.
Last month, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in the Interior Department announced that an area off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts would be auctioned July 31 for wind energy development.
In February 2011, federal energy officials unveiled a long-term plan called “Smart from the Start” to spur commercial-scale wind energy on the Outer Continental Shelf.
Virginia’s 112,800 acres were selected after addressing concerns about sensitive ecological habitats, military training areas, ocean traffic, a dredge disposal site and launches out of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore.
Eight companies are prequalified to bid on 112,800 acres off the coast of Virginia set for auction in September for wind energy development:
•Apex Virginia Offshore Wind, LLC
•Virginia Electric and Power Company (Dominion Virginia Power)
•Energy Management, Inc.
•EDF Renewable Development, Inc.
•Fisherman’s Energy, LLC
•IBERDROLA RENEWABLES, Inc.
•Sea Breeze Energy, LLC
•Orisol Energy U.S., Inc.
Information provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior