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Federal Offshore Wind Initiatives Praised by VCERC's Hatcher

Wind farms in Denmark's coastal waters.

Patrick Hatcher, the Old Dominion University faculty member who serves as executive director of the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium (VCERC), praised the announcement Monday by the Obama administration of new research funding and expedited environmental assessments for wind farms off the coasts of Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said at a media conference in Norfolk that the federal government could begin leasing wind-energy development sites off the coasts of these four states by the end of the year. They also announced the administration's intention to make more than $50 million available over the next five years for offshore wind initiatives.

"We at VCERC have been working to place Virginia at the forefront of discussions about offshore wind energy," said Hatcher, who is ODU's Batten Endowed Professor of Physical Sciences. "Our VCERC team had been involved in advising Department of Energy folks in Washington about the need for establishing offshore wind funding, and we are elated to be in a position to compete for this funding."

VCERC, which is headquartered at ODU, also includes as members: the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute, James Madison University, Norfolk State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Virginia and Hampton University.

"Offshore wind energy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, diversify our energy supply and stimulate economic revitalization," Chu said at the media conference. "The Department of Energy is committed to working with our federal partners to provide national leadership in accelerating offshore wind-energy deployment."

The federal officials released a plan, "National Offshore Wind Strategy: Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States," that they said demonstrates a strong commitment to expeditiously developing a sustainable, world-class offshore wind industry. In support of the plan, the administration announced that it would make available up to $25 million over five years for technology development, up to $18 million over three years for removing market barriers and up to $7.5 million over three years for research on next-generation wind-turbine designs.

Last year, a comprehensive feasibility study by VCERC predicted that within a decade wind-turbine projects off the coast of Virginia could produce electricity at competitive costs and create thousands of jobs. The 67-page report, which reflected 30 months of fact-finding and analysis by researchers affiliated with Virginia universities and industries, 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. (More in formation is available at www.vcerc.org.)

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 coast 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 operational. 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 VCERC report.

This article was posted on: February 15, 2011

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