By Jacob Geiger, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Two massive wind turbines will be built in the Atlantic Ocean about 24 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said Tuesday that it has issued the lease to Virginia — the first state to sign a lease with the federal agency.
The project, announced by Gov. Terry McAuliffe during a speech at a Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce luncheon, will serve as a test to see if generating large amounts of energy from off-shore turbines is practical.
Dominion Virginia Power, which serves about 2.4 million customers in the state, has been selected as the designated operator for the project.
The Richmond-based company hopes to receive all the necessary regulatory approvals by the middle of 2016 and build the turbines in 2017, spokesman David Botkins said.
“Today’s announcement is good news,” said Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter. “This is only a 12-megawatt, two-turbine project, but we’ve got to start somewhere. Virginia and the United States are far behind Europe in offshore wind development.”
“Virginia is well-positioned to become the East Coast hub of future offshore wind energy development and the supply chain that supports it,” Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones said in a statement. “This research lease provides a tremendous opportunity to develop a level of expertise about offshore wind development previously unseen in the U.S.”
The project must be approved by the State Corporation Commission, and Dominion Virginia Power would be allowed to pass the costs of the turbines on to its customers through a rate filing.
A spokesman for Attorney General Mark Herring said the state’s lawyers spent nearly a year writing, negotiating and approving the lease.
Virginia applied for the research lease in 2013. The lease is for 30 years.
The two wind turbines, which each will generate 6 megawatts of electricity, will be built by Alstom, a French company that has its turbine engineering, manufacturing and service center in Chesterfield County.
The utility will build the turbines and test design features intended to lower the cost of construction, reduce maintenance and withstand hurricane-force winds.
The test project will occur in an area adjacent to wind leases signed by Dominion Virginia Power in 2013. Botkins said the company still has lots of engineering and planning work to complete before it begins construction there.
When Dominion leased nearly 113,000 offshore acres for wind power, it said the fully-developed field could eventually generate 2,000 megawatts of power, enough to keep the lights on in about 500,000 homes. It said at the time that installation of large numbers of turbines was likely a decade away, assuming the power company got the necessary state and federal regulatory approval.
That lease, signed in 2013, is separate from the project announced Tuesday, but Botkins said lessons from the state lease will be applied to development of the larger offshore project.
Besa said McAuliffe should push Dominion to develop the full 2,000 megawatt potential of the offshore area. Doing so, Besa said, could keep Dominion from making what he called an “unwise investment in a new nuclear reactor” at the North Anna power plant in Louisa County.
Dominion has already received two U.S. Department of Energy grants totaling up to $51 million for the wind turbine demonstration project off the Virginia coast.
“Today’s news helps cement Virginia as a potential clean energy leader in the nation, and we applaud the McAuliffe administration for its support of renewable energy,” Virginia League of Conservation Voters executive director Michael Towns said.