Wind Turbine Plans Suspended Off Virginia Coast

Plans for a towering offshore wind turbine off the Eastern Shore have been blown away, citing concerns over federal energy policy and the possible expiration of a renewable energy tax credit.
by | May 7, 2012

By Julian Walker, The Virginian-Pilot

A towering offshore wind turbine off the Eastern Shore seemed almost tangible as recently as late March when the state gave its blessing for a prototype energy spire in the Chesapeake Bay.

Barely one month later, those plans have been blown away. Gamesa Energy USA and its partner on the project, Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding, announced Monday the suspension of work to erect a 479-foot tall turbine near Cape Charles.

They cited concerns over federal energy policy and the possible expiration of a renewable energy tax credit among their reasons for halting the effort.

"Without a mature wind market in the United States, it is extremely difficult to justify the enormous expenditure of capital and utilization of engineering and technical resources that would be needed to build and install a prototype in the U.S.," a Gamesa press release said.

The prototype was intended to produce 5-kilowatts of wind-generated electricity that would be transmitted to shore for consumption.

Construction was to be completed by late 2013 under the original timeline.

Now, it's unclear whether the project will be revived. The companies involved in the project were expected to invest $30 million, an attorney representing the firms said in March when the Virginia Marine Resources Commission green lit the turbine proposal.

Approval also required the companies to put up an initial $2.1 million to pay for removal of the structure if it was decommissioned and to pay a one-time royalty of $52,667 for the use of state waters as a turbine site.

Gov. Bob McDonnell was dismayed by the news and he faulted federal policies for the decision, saying Virginia has done its part to invite offshore wind and streamline permitting for it.

"This project will not move forward due to the ongoing lack of a true national energy policy, and a global market that has become more difficult for offshore wind in the past few years," he said in a statement.

Environmentalists are likewise frustrated that the plug is being pulled.

Sierra Club program manager Eileen Levandoski blamed Congress for failing to extend a wind energy tax credit.

She urged federal lawmakers to take immediate action on the tax credit "to avoid further job losses in the wind industry as we potentially see with Gamesa abandoning its wind project in Virginia Despite the Gamesa decision, however, coastal Virginia water may yet host offshore wind apparatus.

Eight companies have formally expressed interest in developing wind farms beyond Virginia's shores, according to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The Obama administration wants to speed the application and permit process to establish wind turbines in American waters; offshore leases for that purpose could be auctioned later this year or early next year.

(c)2012 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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