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Nation’s Next Offshore Wind Farm Eyed For Virginia Coast

America’s next experiment in offshore wind energy has been given the green light in Virginia, and in just a few years, wind turbines could be twirling in two places in the open waters of the U.S. East Coast.

The federal government last week approved a research project off the coast of Virginia that is expected to help demonstrate the viability of offshore wind energy in the U.S. The nation’s first offshore wind farm, off the coast of Rhode Island, is already under construction and could begin operating within the next year.

The Teeside offshore wind farm in the United Kingdom. No offshore wind farms have yet been completed in the United States.
Credit: Paul/flickr

Although offshore wind is a major part of the Obama administration’s long-term climate goals, not a single offshore wind turbine generates so much as a kilowatt of electricity in the U.S., and the technology has yet to be proven here.

Whereas Europe has been building offshore wind turbines for many years, offshore wind energy is a vast untapped renewable energy resource in the U.S. The potential is so huge that more than 4 terawatts of wind power capacity could be built off of the East and West coasts — enough to light up about 480 million homes if fully developed.

The Virginia wind farm will be will be tiny — two 6 megawatt wind turbines powerful enough to generate electricity for 3,000 homes. The federal government granted the lease to the state of Virginia, and the wind farm will be operated by Dominion Resources.

The turbines will be the precursor to a much larger potential development. Dominion was the winning bidder in a 2013 lease sale giving it the right to develop a 2 gigawatt wind farm across nearly 113,000 acres in the open Atlantic 23 miles east of Virginia Beach. If built, that farm could power 700,000 homes.

Dominion spokesman Dan Genest said the construction timeline for the research wind farm is “up in the air,” but details will be announced next week.

Map of Virginia's offshore wind development area, known as the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project, east of Virginia Beach.
Credit: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

“Data collected under this research lease will help us understand the wind potential, weather and other conditions relevant to generating power from wind offshore Virginia,” Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said in a statement. “It will allow us to gain experience with new offshore renewable energy technology.”

Virginia’s offshore wind development is part of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for building 20,000 megawatts of wind power on federally-controlled lands and waters by 2020 — tapping just a tiny portion of America’s offshore wind energy potential.

As part of that plan, the federal government has been designating large swaths of coastline for future offshore wind development, most recently more than 344,000 acres off the Jersey Shore with the potential to power 1.2 million homes and another off the coast of Long Island, which could provide wind power to New York City.

The federal government has also announced that it’s taking the first steps toward leasing waters off the coasts of California and South Carolina for offshore wind energy development.

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