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VCERC Report Makes Case for Wind Farms Off Virginia Shore

VCERC Executive Director Patrick Hatcher

Within five to 10 years, wind turbine projects off the coast of Virginia could produce electricity at competitive costs and create thousands of jobs, according to a comprehensive feasibility study just released by the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium (VCERC).

The 67-page report, which reflects 30 months of fact-finding and analysis by researchers affiliated with Virginia universities and industries, has identified sufficient potential for offshore winds to provide 10 percent of Virginia's annual electricity demand in high-wind zones 12 miles or more off the coast - beyond the visual horizon - on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

Wind farms in these zones would have minimal conflict with other ocean uses, the researchers say. (Click here for a copy of the report or visit www.vcerc.org/report.htm.)

To quantify Virginia's commercially developable offshore wind potential, VCERC researchers identified 25 OCS lease blocks that would avoid conflicting uses such as shipping lanes, Navy live-ordnance training ranges, the Wallops Island space launch hazard area and dredge spoil disposal sites. These 25 blocks could support 3,200 megawatts of offshore wind generating capacity, based on a 3-megawatt turbine having a rotor diameter of 90 meters.

Because offshore winds are stronger than those on land, the annual average output of such a turbine would be in the range of 40-45 percent of its rated capacity. By comparison, land-based turbines in the mid-Atlantic region have 25-30 percent capacity factors.

Using an offshore wind cost model, validated by actual offshore wind project costs in Europe, the researchers estimate that large offshore wind projects can be built off Virginia's shore at a cost of $3,000 to $3,600 per kilowatt. (One megawatt equals 1,000 kilowatts.)

The VCERC research team, led by George Hagerman, senior research associate with Virginia Tech's Advanced Research Institute, says it is feasible for wind farm projects of several hundred megawatts to be in service off the Virginia shore as early as 2016, although 2018 is a more realistic date for such large projects to be fully online. A 600-megawatt offshore wind project could produce electricity (in March 2008 dollars) for $105 to $130 per megawatt-hour, compared to $85 to $100 for the same size coal-fired plant, assuming utility financing.

But if concerns about climate change lead to future carbon emission reduction measures costing $50 or more per ton of CO2 for fossil fuel projects, then "utilities can anticipate that a new offshore wind project will yield a lower energy cost than a new coal-fired project, and may be marginally competitive with a new combined-cycle gas turbine plant," according to the report.

"This report shows clearly that we have done our homework and that there is a need for expeditious action," said Patrick Hatcher, the Old Dominion University professor of chemistry and biochemistry who is the executive director of VCERC. "I believe the report will change perspectives on the potential for offshore wind development in Virginia. Business and industry will benefit because we have done legwork that they normally would have had to do."

Virginia, with its existing shipbuilding and port facilities, could become a producer of wind turbine components and a provider of wind farm construction and maintenance services, the researchers say. These enterprises could create thousands of jobs that could be sustained over the next 20 years if the 3,200 megawatts of near-term potential identified by VCERC is fully built out.

The report estimates that if turbine and tower packages were manufactured in Virginia, the capital cost of an offshore wind project would decrease by about 15 percent, yielding a levelized energy cost of $90 to $115 per megawatt-hour.

Said Hagerman, "Offshore wind provides the type of sustainable economic development opportunity that both Governors Kaine and McDonnell have recognized is key to Virginia's future prosperity. The shipbuilding and port facilities in Hampton Roads are well positioned to manufacture, stage and install foundations, towers and turbines anywhere on the mid-Atlantic continental shelf. Virginia's offshore wind resource alone is capable of supporting a decade-long demand of about 100 turbines per year, and the offshore wind resources of our neighboring states could at least double that number. Attracting investment in offshore wind turbine manufacturing to our region would create thousands of new, career-length jobs and reduce offshore wind energy costs by 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour."

"Virginia is poised to be a leader in offshore wind power generation and this report provides a road map for commercial development, applied research and government policymaking to move us in that direction," added Kenneth Newbold, director of research development at James Madison University and program manager for the VCERC Virginia Wind Energy Center. "The report highlights Virginia's commitment to securing alternative energy sources in a cost-effective manner to benefit the citizens of the commonwealth."

VCERC researchers call for cooperative action by mid-Atlantic states to collaborate on research, development and demonstration of technologies that can make wind farms less expensive than those that exist in Europe and more suited to the offshore conditions here. Because the United States is unlikely to provide government financial incentives comparable to those of European countries, "we must lower capital costs by using turbine designs, support structures, and erection methods specifically developed for the ocean environment of the southern Mid-Atlantic Bight," the report states.

More research is also needed on offshore wind characteristics, particularly the vertical distribution of wind speeds. The report calls for an "aggressive program" of wind resource modeling validated by measurements. It recommends that Virginia collaborate with Delaware, Maryland and North Carolina to conduct such a regional program.

The report also summarizes recent state legislation signed in early April by Gov. Bob McDonnell, creating the Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority, which is tasked to:

• Collect meteorological, oceanographic, avian, and marine environmental data, working with NOAA to upgrade its equipment on the Chesapeake Light tower, and/or establishing a public-private partnership to design, fabricate and install new offshore towers.

• Establish public-private partnerships for the upgrade of port facilities and other logistical equipment and sites to accommodate the manufacturing and assembly of offshore wind energy project components and vessels that will support the construction and operations of offshore wind energy projects, working with relevant local, state and federal agencies.

• Ensure that the commercial development of offshore wind is compatible with other ocean uses, including possible interference with and positive effects on: naval facilities and operations, government and commercial space flight operations, shipping lanes, recreational and commercial fisheries, and avian and marine species and habitats.

This article was posted on: April 26, 2010

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