Sunday, August 31, 2008

NORFOLK (AP) | A hundred wind turbines towering 300 feet each 12 miles off of Virginia Beach is a realistic proposal, a team of researchers concluded in a preliminary finding.

The university scientists and industry specialists have reached the halfway point in its study of the $250 million project. The turbines would not be visible from shore and would take advantage of strong, consistent winds in that part of the Atlantic, especially during winter, they found.

“We’re not seeing any showstoppers,” Larry Atkinson, an oceanographer at Old Dominion University here, told the Virginian-Pilot.

One researcher described the area off Virginia Beach as “probably the best place, all-around, of any site on the East Coast.”

Neil Rondorf, vice president for maritime operations at defense contractor SAIC Corp. of McLean and San Diego, said several factors led him to that conclusion. He cited area wind speed, relatively shallow water, low prevalence of hurricanes and proximity to electric-power infrastructure in Virginia Beach.

The project is modeled after one in Denmark, known as Horns Rev, which started producing about 160 megawatts of electricity a year in 2002.

“If wind energy development in the eastern U.S. is going to make a real rather than symbolic contribution to solving our energy and air pollution problems, it will certainly be offshore development,” Rick Webb, a University of Virginia scientist, wrote in an e-mail.

Researchers from universities and several consulting firms have studied offshore sites from Southern Maryland to northern North Carolina. Some of their basic questions include:

  • What wind resources are available off the coast?

  • Would Navy training and operations be compromised?

  • Is the ocean bottom strong enough to handle 300-foot-tall turbines?

  • How would the energy reach the power grid onshore?

    The study — involving ODU, Virginia Tech, James Madison University and Norfolk State — is part of a $1.4 million state commitment to developing alternative energy sources.

    Offshore wind researchers are preparing a progress report for Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine and the General Assembly. Their summary, expected in a month or two, will describe the Virginia Beach site as the best option, several scientists said.

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