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Clean Power Virginia offshore wind lease auction

Published on July 24th, 2013 | by Silvio Marcacci

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Virginia’s Coastline Could Soon Be Home To 2 GW Of Offshore Wind

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July 24th, 2013 by
 

Virginia’s coastline could be the next US offshore wind hotspot, if the US Department of the Interior (DOI) gets its way.

Virginia offshore wind lease auction area map

Virginia offshore lease auction map via Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

DOI announced this week it will hold America’s second-ever competitive lease sale for offshore wind on the US Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) September 4th, for 112,800 acres in a prime development zone 23.5 miles from Virginia Beach.

The announcement comes one week before DOI’s first competitive offshore wind lease auction is held for 164,750 acres for development off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island on July 31st, an event Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has said could set the pace for future auctions.

2 GW Offshore Wind Potential Up For Auction

Unlike the New England auction, the Virginia offshore wind area will be offered as a single lease, to eight qualified bidders. DOI predicts the area, composed of 19 full- and 13 sub-OCS blocks, has the potential to generate more than 2,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable electricity – enough to power 700,000 homes.

Offshore wind farm

Offshore wind farm image via CleanTechnica

“The competitive lease sale offshore Virginia will mark an important transition from planning to action when it comes to capturing the enormous clean energy potential offered by Atlantic wind,” said Secretary Jewell. “Responsible commercial wind energy development has the potential to create jobs, increase our energy security, and strengthen our nation’s competitiveness.”

America’s coastal waters hold enormous wind energy potential – roughly 1,300 gigawatts (GW), according to a 2012 estimate. Even harnessing a realistic fraction of this potential could generate 52GW of clean electricity, while creating 300,000 green jobs and $200 billion in economic activity.

“Smart From The Start” Approach May Speed Development

But while the potential for offshore wind is massive, development has been held back by concerns over local aesthetics, environmental impacts, and economic realities. DOI’s newest push, however, could finally calm the rough waters that have swamped proposed projects like Cape Wind.

DOI’s efforts are part of President Barack Obama’s challenge to the agency to approve an additional 10,000MW of renewable energy production on public lands and waters by 2020. Using this “Smart from the Start” approach to stakeholder involvement, DOI hopes to expedite responsible development of commercial-scale wind energy off America’s coastline.

This auction block was selected through a coordinated process with Virginia’s government and environmental stakeholders to minimize ecological and local concerns. Consultations included multiple federal laws like the Endangered Species Act and Coastal Zone Management Act.

As a result, the 112,800 acres avoid sensitive habitat along the Chesapeake Bay, military training areas, marine vessel traffic, a dredge disposal site, and areas of concern specified by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Business Concerns Still Loom Large

Anticipating environmental and local concerns is great and all, but the journey from DOI’s auction to generating clean electricity will be driven by business concerns – and those concerns are real.

Eight companies have expressed interest in the auction, and been deemed eligible to participate, including some of the world’s biggest and most experiences wind developers like Iberdrola and EDF Renewables. But potential development could be swamped if Virginia’s state utility, Dominion Virginia Power, wins the auction.

Environmentalists have raised concerns that if Dominion is awarded the lease rights, it might “drag its feet” to develop the area in light of existing investments in natural gas generation and nuclear power (full disclosure – I am a Dominion residential electricity customer).

In addition, because Virginia does not maintain a competitive electricity market, other developers may face difficulties in securing power purchase agreements for their Virginia offshore wind turbines. Without access to the local market, developers may have to look for customers in electricity markets in other states or wait until the Atlantic Wind Connection is complete.

Can America Keep Up In The Offshore Wind Race?

Regardless of Dominion’s involvement, the larger message is clear – DOI is setting sail for the future of America’s offshore wind industry and joining other US efforts to go from potential to reality.

There are approximately zero utility-scale offshore wind projects being built in the US, and we’re rapidly losing the opportunity to lead in a market estimated to be worth around $170 million by 2020.

If DOI’s first two lease auctions go well, we may see many more approved in the near future, and America might finally be on its way to catching up to our European competitors and keeping pace with the growing Asian market.

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.



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  • Bob_Wallace

    I said “serve as artificial reef” I did not say that the pilings would function like a “true coral reef”. I did not say that the underwater structures would be the bestest reef in entire great big world.

    Lighten up a little.

  • Lawrence

    Interesting article. You should correct the following, though:

    “…we’re rapidly losing the opportunity to lead in a market estimated to be worth around $170 million by 2020.”

    It’s expected to be $170 billion, not $ 170 million.

    • Matt

      Yes, please update. While “m”, “b” and “t” are only one letter off; it’s a very big impact on the number . ;)

      Of course if someone wanted to build a reef in the area, using the extra electric when there is “too much” would make it easier. There has been several studies (in 70′s I think) that used electric passed through metal mesh to start a reef. Once the base is in place, mother takes over.

  • Bob_Wallace

    “Virginia does not maintain a competitive electricity market”

    Virginia, that bastion of Republicanism, does not believe in the free market?

    They practice energy socialism? Like the very red state of Georgia?

    I feel a spell of the vapors coming on….

  • JamesWimberley

    PS: the zone auctioned includes a fish haven. Since industrial fishing – especially trawling – is incompatible with wind farms, the proposal is likely to expand the effective haven: up to 20 times if the whole block is fully developed. Good news, as complete no-fishing zones where fish can breed without interference are the best protection yet invented against overfishing. In the medium run they can raise sustainable catches elsewhere as the fish have to spill out of the protected zone in search of food..

    • Bob_Wallace

      Protected zones also let fish grow larger. Larger fish produce more offspring.

      Additionally the underwater parts of wind farms serve as artificial reefs. That provides habitat for organisms and plants which need to attach themselves to something. And that adds food at the bottom of the food chain.

      • JamesWimberley

        You have to build the reefs (which you may need to protect the bases from scouring currents). Preferably out of irregular natural rocks, and at best ones you’ve displaced in the project. The smooth concrete bases of the towers don’t provide enough surface area.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Check some concrete dock pilings sometime. Marine life finds them quite attractive.

          As for total area. A few hundred square feet is more than none. Fishing is excellent around oil rigs.

  • JamesWimberley

    “Full disclosure – I am a Dominion residential electricity customer.” How is that a potential conflict of interest, unless you are suing them or vice versa? Are you going to tell us whether you typed the post on a Mac or an Ultrabook? In theory you might be biased against Dominion winning the lease, because you think they will make a costly mess of it and then hike your tariff to compensate. Believe me, your readers here have other risks on their minds.

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