October 10, 2008

Scientists: Tangier Ripe for Wind-Energy Project


By Scott Harper

The Virginian-Pilot

tangier island

Out here in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, the wind can pound any landlubber into submission. And that fact, scientists say, is what makes Tangier Island such an attractive place for a wind- energy project.

State researchers want to erect one or two wind turbines at the gusty southern edge of the island as a pilot project for this new, alternative energy source in Virginia.

But scientists do not want to stop there.

They also would like to experiment with solar power on Tangier, try harvesting algae and converting it to biodiesel fuel for islanders to burn in their generators, and perhaps encourage other researchers to come and stay here and study how each of these green energy supplies is progressing.

"This could be a new sector for them, a financial opportunity - and not just for generating alternative energy, but as a site suitable for research," said Jonathan Miles, a professor at James Madison University who is leading the Tangier initiative.

Miles said other universities are helping, too, including Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University, which both are evaluating wind power and its possible offshore development.

In addition, Miles said, the U.S. Department of Energy is looking to back research into the reliability and storage of wind power, and could be a source of future grant money.

"I can't make any promises for 2009, but there's particular interest at DOE in getting behind projects like we're envisioning on Tangier," Miles said.

The Tangier Town Council, which once voted to oppose the filming of a Hollywood movie on the island, took little time to decide this option.

"Bring it on!" said Mayor James Eskridge. "We'd love it. We need to diversify our economy, so this would be great."

Eskridge, who attended a meeting on the proposal in Richmond this summer, said he worries that regulators and environmentalists might delay the project long enough that the state may sour on it.

"They were all concerned about birds flying into the turbines, so I don't know," Eskridge said. "It'd be a real shame."

Then there is a question of money. With the state fighting budget deficits and the national economy in a tailspin, supporters are keeping their fingers crossed for continued aid for alternative energy.

Asked if the money was available for building the Tangier test turbines, Miles answered, "Well, no - not right now."

There are no commercial wind farms operating in Virginia, though one has been permitted in the Appalachian mountains in Highland County, near the West Virginia line.

ODU, Norfolk State University and a coalition of other state schools and consultants are studying the potential for developing a wind farm off Virginia Beach. Their research has another year to go, but results so far indicate that turbines could be built, energy could be delivered to shore, and money could be made.

Miles said he has spent more than a year, on and off, gauging Tangier Island's potential. He has traveled to the remote island just below the Maryland line twice, and expects to return soon.

The proposed turbine site is on the southern reaches of the island, where there are lots of marshes and few homes; Tangier has only 573 residents.

Miles' work, financed with a state alternative-energy grant, so far shows that winds in the middle of the Bay seem to be strong enough and consistent enough to spin turbines and produce electricity in a cost-effective manner.

Tangier currently is served by a small power-generating system on the island, which is backed up by diesel-stoked generators and a power cable extending to Virginia's Eastern Shore.

If two turbines are erected on Tangier, Miles said, the resulting electricity could be distributed throughout the island and "pretty much cover all of their needs."

"They could be a completely green island," he said.

Scott Harper, (757) 446-2340, [email protected]

Originally published by BY SCOTT HARPER.

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