Virginia awarded offshore wind energy lease from BOEM

The lease was awarded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. It allows development of a 12-MW, grid-connected facility of two Alstom 6-MW turbines and associated cabling and meteorological buoys to document conditions on the outer continental shelf, about 24 miles east of Virginia Beach and adjacent to the area BOEM has designated the Virginia Wind Energy Area.

BOEM officials said the data gathered by Virginia’s pilot project would be publicly available and usable by any other entities seeking to lease shelf locations to build turbines.

The planned twin turbines would generate electricity for just 3,000 homes, but the lease sends a more powerful signal in moving Virginia ahead in developing a wind energy industry. 

“Developing our clean energy resources is an essential element of building a new Virginia economy … With this research lease, Virginia is leading the way in building wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean and taking the next step toward the clean energy economy we need to create jobs and lower energy costs now and into the future,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement praising the lease.

Virginia is pushing hard for offshore oil and gas exploration that would benefit its shipbuilding and ports industries. But wind has been part of that portfolio too, as the state partnered with Dominion Resources Inc. and others to start the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project.

Dominion was the recipient of a $47 million grant promised by the U.S. Department of Energy, part of the start-up renewable energy subsides initiated early in the Obama administration.

Part of the success is “the Virginia project has gotten some federal money, and it’s a small project,” said Jeremy Firestone, a professor of marine policy at the University of Delaware’s wind power program. “You’ve got a vertically integrated utility involved. That all helped make it happen.” 

As the Virginia project goes forward, others are sputtering. The struggling Cape Wind project in Massachusetts was dealt a blow this winter when two of its biggest potential power purchasers pulled out of their deals. But Firestone said there are stronger levels of public support for wind power along other reaches of the coast. “Cape Wind is the most controversial wind project in the world. It is an outlier,” he said.

On the same day the Virginia lease was announced, the offshore wind power group Fishermen’s Energy was in a New Jersey state appeals court, arguing with the state Board of Public Utilities over the BPU’s refusal to approve its five-turbine demonstration project that would be built a few miles off the beach in Atlantic City. The city, already home to a massive onshore wind energy installation that greets visitors driving into the resort, readily bought into a 2010 proposal from a consortium of New Jersey fishing and seafood businesses organized by Dan Cohen of Atlantic Capes Fisheries in Cape May. 

“We found strong support for the project,” said Firestone, who has done extensive study of public attitudes to the Fishermen’s Energy proposal. The project seems to work for Atlantic City and its visitor audience because “there’s a lot going on there, so it’s just another part of the show,” Firestone said.

But Fishermen’s Energy does not work for the New Jersey utilities regulators, who insist its finances add up to a bad deal for electricity ratepayers, even if Fishermen’s Energy has the same $47 million commitment as Virginia from the Department of Energy.   — Kirk Moore



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