Virginia beachgoers will see a strange sight over the next three weeks as an oil rig-type vessel begins taking seabed core samples for Dominion Virginia Power’s offshore wind farm test project.
The 110-foot Inez Eymard arrived Monday afternoon from the Gulf of Mexico to begin drilling about 300 yards offshore from Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach, said Dominion spokesman Dan Genest.
The vessel will sit 15 feet off the surface of the water on three 175-foot-tall “legs” as it drills, moving progressively closer to shore each day, weather permitting.
“We suspect people are going to say, ‘What the heck’s going on?'” Genest said.
The company is trying to alert the public through the media, he said, and will run a banner on nearby Croatan Beach with a toll-free number to call for more information.
The vessel will drill core samples through July 20, he said, including 11 days off Camp Pendleton, where the distribution lines would be laid, and at the wind farm site 24 nautical miles east of Virginia Beach. It may relocate to the wind farm site mid-week if thunderstorms don’t keep it close to shore.
Dominion is part of an industry and research partnership called the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project (VOWTAP) that is considering an offshore wind farm in an area leased from the federal government.
The first step is to put up two 6-megawatt test turbines by 2017 to generate enough energy to power 3,000 homes. If those turbines are successful, and can produce enough low-cost energy, VOWTAP plans to build a larger commercial wind farm. The State Corporation Commission would first have to approve the project.
Estimates are the demonstration project alone will create 100 construction jobs with an economic impact on Hampton Roads of about $10 million a year.
According to a timeline from the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, the first commercial offshore turbines could be operational by 2022.
Virginia environmentalists have expressed concern over Dominion’s resolve, but the utility has said it is committed to trying to develop offshore wind energy.
Other VOWTAP partners include Newport News Shipbuilding, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, and the KBR engineering and construction firm.
In May, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a $47 million competitive grant toward the project.