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Harnessing of Wind Energy is Hot Topic at Regional Conference

Jose Blanco and Larry Atkinson

The Mid-Atlantic Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (MACOORA), which held its annual meeting at the Renaissance Hotel in Portsmouth this week, has a rich history of deliberations on topics ranging from water quality to storm surges. But an issue that is relatively new on its radar--offshore wind farms--got a lot of attention at this year's meeting.

Before the winds off the shores of Virginia and nearby states can be harnessed for generating electricity, much research and other preparatory work must be done to promote the safe and efficient operations of giant wind turbines, as well as the transmission of electricity by power lines along the ocean's floor back to shore. The several hundred participants seemed to agree on the conference's opening day, Tuesday, Nov. 17, that MACOORA can and should be a major player in wind-energy studies.

Larry Atkinson, the Old Dominion University eminent professor and Samuel A. and Fay M. Slover Professor of Oceanography, led a breakout session on offshore wind power Tuesday afternoon that attracted a standing-room-only audience. Participants included representatives of universities, government agencies, private industry and the public.

George Hagerman, senior research associate with the Center for Energy and Global Environment at Virginia Tech's Advanced Research Institute and the director of the wind-energy initiative of the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium (VCERC), was a principal presenter at the breakout session.

Atkinson is involved in VCERC research pertaining to offshore wind potential, as is Jose Blanco, a research scientist at ODU's Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography (CCPO), who was another participant in the breakout session. Elizabeth Smith, a CCPO research scientist, was one of the MACOORA conference organizers.

VCERC, which is exploring several alternative energy strategies, including the production of biodiesel fuel from algae, is headquartered at ODU and the executive director is Patrick Hatcher, the ODU Batten Endowed Chair in Physical Sciences.

The U.S. Department of Interior's Mineral Management Service (MMS), represented at the MACOORA meeting by Walter Johnson, an oceanographer with the service's Environmental Sciences Branch, is in charge of leasing offshore sites related to wind-farm development. Johnson said the regulatory structure affecting the leasing and leaseholders has not been finalized, but that interested parties can submit commercial wind-farm lease applications, or proceed under an interim policy that allows leaseholders to gain access to plots and begin to conduct research.

Two commercial lease applications have been filed for Virginia waters. In New Jersey and Delaware, sites are being leased under the interim policy, and meteorological research towers costing upwards of $10 million are to be constructed on them.

Participants in the breakout session discussed partnerships and other ways that more meteorological towers can be built as soon as possible in the mid-Atlantic coastal waters. Data collected by these towers could fill gaps in research about wind potential through the seasons, other climatology factors, currents, storms and so forth.

Hagerman noted that meteorological and avian data acquisition research towers could be constructed in mid-Atlantic coastal waters by the state governments of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland under a special MMS provision. He suggested that if these towers are built, the data collection and analysis could be managed by MACOORA.

Overall, Hagerman said, MACOORA can "facilitate good decision making and coordination" as wind farms are being considered by the mid-Atlantic states.

A major VCERC research document on wind-energy resources off the coast of Virginia is nearing completion, Hagerman said. The report will include data on physical oceanography issues and potential power production, as well as recommendations for research. In addition, the report will offer analysis and commentary about the onshore industries that would support the wind farms, the potential economic impact on coastal Virginia of wind farm development, and alternatives for transmission of wind-generated electricity along the East Coast.

The wind-energy push is heating up on other fronts as well. Gov. Timothy Kaine announced Nov. 11 that Virginia has joined a partnership with Maryland and Delaware to promote the development of offshore wind farms in the mid-Atlantic region. Earlier this year, Kaine initiated the formation of a federal-state-local task force to guide and facilitate the process of leasing federal waters off the Virginia coast for wind turbine development. That task force is schedule to meet in Virginia Beach next month.

This article was posted on: November 18, 2009

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