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Wind Farm Off VA. Coast is Doable, Say Researchers

August 30, 2008

By SCOTT HARPER

By Scott Harper

The Virginian-Pilot

Researchers studying a potential offshore wind farm on the Virginia coast have reached the halfway point of their work but already have come to a solid conclusion: The clean-energy project is realistic and doable.

“We’re not seeing any show-stoppers,” said Larry Atkinson, an oceanographer at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.

While plenty of environmental and logistical questions remain, including potential conflicts with the Navy, “it’s definitely viable, and really seems to make sense,” Atkinson said.

A team of university scientists and industry experts has narrowed its sights on an initial project – about 100 wind turbines installed at least 12 miles off Virginia Beach, costing more than $250 million.

The whirling turbines, each about 300 feet tall, would not be visible from shore, researchers said, and would take advantage of strong, consistent winds found in that part of the Atlantic, especially during winter .

One expert involved in the study described the subject area off Virginia Beach as “probably the best place, all-around, of any site on the East Coast.”

Wind speed, relatively shallow water, low prevalence of hurricanes and close proximity to electric-power infrastructure in Virginia Beach were all factors in that slam-dunk assessment.

“Virginia Beach is, by far, the best location we looked at,” said the expert, Neil Rondorf, vice president for maritime operations at Science Applications International Corp., a local consulting firm. Rondorf has studied wind energy on and off since the 1970s.

While much of the economic-benefits part of the study is unfinished, researchers said an offshore wind farm would create jobs, lure spinoff businesses and manufacturers to the region and could even promote tourism.

“They run tour boats out to the turbines in Europe,” Rondorf said, “and they apparently do quite well.”

The envisioned project is modeled after one in Denmark, known as Horns Rev, which started producing about 160 megawatts of electricity a year for the Scandinavian country in 2002.

That much electricity is about one-third of what a proposed coal- fired power plant in Wise County in southwestern Virginia would generate annually, a plant that environmentalists are protesting in court and political circles as a major step backward in the drive for greener energy.

Offshore wind in Virginia, by contrast, so far has the support of environmentalists, including critics of proposed wind farms atop Appalachian mountain ridges in the western part of the state.

“If wind energy development in the eastern U.S. is going to make a real rather than symbolic contribution to solving our energy and air pollution problems, it will certainly be offshore development,” Rick Webb, a University of Virginia scientist, wrote in an e-mail.

Webb is fighting an approved wind farm in Highland County, as well as prospective mountain turbines in other neighboring counties, arguing their environmental impacts would outweigh any economic gains.

In studying offshore sites from southern Maryland to northern North Carolina, researchers from four universities and several local consulting firms have spent the past year trying to answer some basic questions about a possible project:

What wind resources are available off the coast? Is there enough wind to make private investment and development worthwhile? Would Navy training and operations be compromised? Is the ocean bottom strong enough to handle 300-foot-tall turbines? How would the energy reach the power grid onshore?

The answers, in order, are: plenty; yes; probably not; yes; and by constructing a long transmission line on the floor of the ocean to an undetermined point in Virginia Beach.

The study, involving ODU, Virginia Tech, James Madison University and Norfolk State, is part of a $1.4 million state commitment to developing alternative energy sources in the commonwealth.

Wind is a major focus of the two-year commitment, as is research seeking to convert algae into biofuel, a project spearheaded by ODU scientists.

Offshore wind researchers are preparing a progress report for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and the General Assembly. Their summary, expected out in a month or two, will describe the Virginia Beach site as the best option, several scientists said.

Their overall study is expected to extend to July 2009, and will more fully examine the economics and potential conflicts with the Navy, the Wallops Island space port, sea birds, fisheries and marine mammals.

However, more than environmental obstacles, some scientists fear state budget cuts might fall on them and the wind analysis.

The study comes as offshore wind projects are taking off on the East Coast, if some still are stumbling.

This summer, a company called Bluewater Wind Delaware LLC signed an agreement with Delmarva Power to sell up to 200 megawatts of power from a wind farm to be built 11.5 miles off the coast of Rehoboth Beach in Delaware.

It would be the first offshore farm on the Atlantic coast.

Plans are drawn for wind turbines off New Jersey, though the project has been delayed for several years now, in part for lack of federal rules governing how such farms can be permitted and regulated.

Another private initiative is under way off Rhode Island, where a consortium of fishermen is collaborating with Bluewater Wind to develop a farm near Block Island.

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, the long-delayed Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound remains caught up in political and regulatory problems.

A proposal to permit a wind farm off Virginia’s Eastern Shore died in 2003 after much debate about potential impacts to migratory birds, Navy training and sensitive, coastal barrier islands.

The nail in the coffin, however, was a lack of electric- transmission capacity on the Eastern Shore.

Such capacity issues are not a problem in Virginia Beach.

Clay Bernick, Virginia Beach’s director of environmental services, said he and several other city staffers have met with the offshore wind researchers about their study, and came away impressed.

“I think it does hold promise,” he said, “especially when you consider the clean aspect of it and the sustainability side of it.”

Researchers said the biggest obstacle to the project is probably the Navy, which has voiced concerns about drilling for oil, offshore wind and other ocean developments that might interfere with training and operations.

“If we can show them that we’re going to stay out of their way, I think we’ll be fine,” Rondorf said .

Scott Harper, (757) 446-2340,

scott.harper@pilotonline.com

offshore wind farms

There are no offshore wind farms operating in the United States, and only a handful up and running in the world. According to the British Wind Energy Association, they are:

Vindeby, in Denmark, 11 turbines, 4.95 megawatts, online in 1991

Lely, in Holland, four turbines, 2 MW, online in 1994

Tuno Knob, Denmark, 10 turbines, 5 MW, 1995

Dronten, Holland, 19 turbines, 11.4 MW, 1996

Gotland, Sweden, five turbines, 2.5 MW, 1997

Blyth Offshore, United Kingdom, two turbines, 3.8 MW, 2000

Middelgrunden, Denmark, 20 turbines, 40 MW, 2001

Uttgrunden, Sweden, seven turbines, 10.5 MW, 2001

Yttre Stengrund, Sweden, five turbines, 10 MW, 2001

Horns Rev, Denmark, 80 turbines, 160 MW, 2002

Frederikshaven, Denmark, four turbines, 10.6 MW, 2003

Samso, Denmark, 10 turbines, 23 MW, 2003

North Hoyle, UK, 30 turbines, 60 MW, 2003

Mysted, Denmark, 72 turbines, 158 MW, 2004

Arklow Bank, Ireland, seven turbines, 25.2 MW, 2004

Scroby Sands, UK, 30 turbines, 60 MW, 2004

More offshore farms are planned in Sweden, Holland, Ireland, Denmark and the UK, as well as projects in Germany, Spain, Belgium, China and the U. S .

There are no offshore wind farms operating in the United States, and only a handful up and running in the world. According to the British Wind Energy Association, they are:

– Vindeby, in Denmark, 11 turbines, 4.95 megawatts, online in 1991

– Lely, in Holland, 4 turbines, 2 MW, online in 1994

– Tuno Knob, Denmark, 10 turbines, 5 MW, 1995

– Dronten, Holland, 19 turbines, 11.4 MW, 1996

– Gotland, Sweden, 5 turbines, 2.5 MW, 1997

– Blyth Offshore, United Kingdom, 2 turbines, 3.8 MW, 2000

– Middelgrunden, Denmark, 20 turbines, 40 MW, 2001

– Uttgrunden, Sweden, 7 turbines, 10.5 MW, 2001

– Yttre Stengrund, Sweden, 5 turbines, 10 MW, 2001

– Horns Rev, Denmark, 80 turbines, 160 MW, 2002

– Frederikshaven, Denmark, 4 turbines, 10.6 MW, 2003

– Samso, Denmark, 10 turbines, 23 MW, 2003

– North Hoyle, UK, 30 turbines, 60 MW, 2003

– Mysted, Denmark, 72 turbines, 158 MW, 2004

– Arklow Bank, Ireland, 7 turbines, 25.2 MW, 2004

– Scroby Sands, UK, 30 turbines, 60 MW, 2004

There are more offshore farms planned in Sweden, Holland, Ireland, Denmark and the UK, as well as projects in Germany, Spain, Belgium, China and the United States.

Originally published by BY SCOTT HARPER.

(c) 2008 Virginian – Pilot. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.




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