Weighing the alternatives

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Print this page by Garry Kranz

As Virginia gravitates to renewable energy sources, wind power appears to be one of the most viable options. Dominion Virginia Power and BP Wind Energy North America Inc. are partners in a plan to place wind turbines along ridgelines in Tazewell and Wise counties.  Hundreds of miles away a consortium of groups is talking about Virginia Beach’s offshore wind as a potential source.

It’s too early to tell whether these projects will materialize. There’s no funding yet for the $1 billion proposed wind farm 15 miles off the shores of Virginia Beach.  Meanwhile, Dominion and BP first must conduct meteorological tests to determine potential wind power on Virginia’s mountain ridges.  Plus, finding sites with access to existing transmission lines presents another challenge.
“A lot of the [sites] we’re looking at in that region would be [capable of] the 150-200 megawatt range,” says Diana Leopold, Dominion’s senior vice president for business development and generation construction.

With Congress expected to pass new laws soon that would cap carbon emissions, power companies are taking a hard look at alternative power sources. Dominion and BP have purchased 2,560 acres of land in Tazewell, which shows more than a nodding interest. Plus, wind power would help Dominion attain Virginia’s mandate of providing at least 12 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2022.

Still even “clean” energy sources like wind can be problematic. Such facilities need the approval of the Virginia State Corporation Commission, as well as a slew of environmental and other state and federal permits. County governments also must give the go-ahead.

Consider the saga of Highland New Wind Development LLC in Monterey, which plans to build a 20-turbine wind farm on a ridgeline near the West Virginia border.  It could generate 39 megawatts of electricity.

After state regulators granted it a permit in 2006, the project was mired in lawsuits for more than two years by residents opposed to having 400-foot-high towers placed on mountain ridges. Developers finally prevailed, however, and the $60 million project is moving ahead. Construction is expected to start later this year, according to Highland New Wind Development company spokesman Frank Maisano.

Richmond-based Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, which supplies customers in Virginia as well as Maryland and Delaware, also has been adding wind power. It gained 120 megawatts under separate deals with AES Corp. in Arlington and California-based Clipper Windpower Inc. ODEC also is buying less than 1 megawatt of power created by a hydroelectric project owned by Hydro FS on the Jackson River in Alleghany County, says company spokesman Jeb Hockman.

Electric utilities soon could have a new form of biomass fuel, thanks to Osage Bio Energy’s ethanol factory in Hopewell. Now under construction, the plant could begin operating this year. Waste products are “pelletized” for use as a source of renewable fuel by utilities, explains John Warren, Osage’s director of government relations and project management.

Federal stimulus money may help move some projects along.  Virginia is expected to get $70 million for a variety of state energy programs. That includes $32 million in grants to stimulate purchases of renewable energy systems, $20 million to support development of renewable energy sources and $15 million for energy-efficiency initiatives, according to the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

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