Industries Energy/Green

Virginia moves closer to installing America’s first offshore wind turbine

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The Virginia Marine Resources Commission has approved the proposed construction of a 479-foot-tall, five-megawatt wind turbine generator prototype in the lower Chesapeake Bay. It would be located three miles off the Eastern Shore town of Cape Charles.

If the turbine gains approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and passes review by the U.S. Coast Guard, construction of the prototype turbine could be completed by late 2013. This timetable would make it the first offshore wind turbine generator project in the U.S.

Gamesa Energy USA, in a partnership with Huntingon Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding, is behind the proposal to develop and test new offshore wind technologies that will reduce the cost of wind power. The design life of the prototype is expected to be 20 years or more. The submarine cable system could last more than 100 years.

“This is an important next step in developing all of Virginia’s domestic energy resources to help power our nation’s economy and puts Virginia at the forefront of clean energy technology development,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a statement announcing the marine commission’s unanimous vote.  “ … Virginia’s unique and efficient permitting process adopted for small energy projects like this one was a critical factor in Gamesa’s choice of Virginia as the location for this U.S. wind energy operation, and today we see the fruit of these proactive policies.”

The purpose of the project is to advance the demonstration of Gamesa Energy USA LLC’s new offshore WTG technology, the G11X, specifically designed for deployment in offshore wind environments worldwide. The information collected during the construction and operation of the prototype will help to perfect the new technology for worldwide commercial market deployment by 2015.

Although the project is not intended to serve as a major energy supply source, one benefit will be the production of up to five megawatts of clean, renewable wind power to the local Virginia transmission grid for public use. The turbine construction includes the installation of a steel monopile foundation and tower with a maximum blade tip height of 479 feet above average sea level. More than 15,000 linear feet of submerged power cable also will be buried a minimum of six feet below the seabed. The cable will connect the wind turbine to the Cape Charles electrical grid through the Bay Coastal Railroad property in Cape Charles Harbor.

The commission’s public review concluded that the turbine will not have a negative impact on commercial or recreational marine activities. Instead, the project could enhance recreational fishing on the Eastern Shore because the structure likely will attract fish looking for shade and shelter, and the fish will attract anglers. The agency said it received no objections from the public. Still, its approval came with several conditions to which Gamesa agreed. They require Gamesa to: 

• Post a bond or letter of credit of at least $2.1 million to pay for removing the structure if the turbine is decommissioned,
• Pay a one-time royalty of $52,667 for use of the state-owned water bottom,
• Conduct a comprehensive scientific study of the turbine’s underwater acoustical potential impact on marine life under a variety of wind and weather conditions.

Since the project is a prototype, the commission felt it beneficial to have detailed scientific marine acoustical impact information in the event the technology is deployed elsewhere.

Gamesa is a world leader in the design, manufacture, installation and maintenance of wind turbines, with more than 20,000 megawatts installed in 30 countries on four continents.

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