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U.S. Offshore Wind Inches Closer To Reality As Dominion Places Bid On Ocean Lease

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"U.S. Offshore Wind Inches Closer To Reality As Dominion Places Bid On Ocean Lease"

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Despite its potential to produce more than 4,000 gigawatts of renewable energy, the United States still does not have a single operational offshore wind farm. But we’re getting closer.

In a Tuesday press release, Richmond, Virginia-based company Dominion Resources said it is moving forward with a plan to bid on a lease for 80,000 acres of ocean off the coast of Maryland — federal land that has been set aside for the development of wind farms. Though an auction date has not been set yet, it is expected to take place sometime this year. According to Dominion, the site could offer up to 1,450 megawatts of commercial power, or enough to power 300,000 homes.

As Dominion competes with other companies for the lease, it is also attempting to move forward on another auction it won in September for offshore wind — a lease of nearly 113,000 acres off the Virginia coast, which it won with a $1.6 million bid. That site has the potential to generate 2,000 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 700,000 homes. Even Virginia’s then-Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican who routinely dismissed climate science and pushed for more fossil-fuel use, said the project was a good idea.

“Virginia’s coast is ideal for wind development,” McDonnell said at the time. “This will result in millions of dollars in industrial activity and the creation of many new high-skilled jobs in our state.”

But Dominion still faces a long road to actually get its project up and running, if past wind leases are any indication. To date, the U.S. Department of Interior has issued five offshore wind leases — all in New England or in the mid-Atlantic region — none of which are operational. The first one proposed was the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts, which has slogged through a 13-year approval process, faced with regulatory confusion over what agencies have jurisdiction, legal challenges from many different groups, and some Cape Cod residents objecting to the project for various parochial reasons. In addition, offshore offshore wind projects are also extremely expensive up-front, and there are no current wind production tax credits in place.

Even if Dominion’s bid falls through, they are are not the only offshore wind projects that are moving towards fruition. Earlier this month, wind-energy developer Principle Power Inc. received approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior to lease 15 square miles of federal waters near Coos Bay, Oregon for a $200 million, 30-megawatt offshore wind farm. Called the WindFloat project, it is the fifth offshore wind lease the DOI has ever awarded, but the first to be attempted in the Pacific Ocean. With the approval, Principle is now able to submit a formal proposal.

Stabilizing offshore wind turbines in the Pacific has proven difficult because of the ocean’s sheer depth, but Principle has proposed to solve the problem by stabilizing its turbines on floating, triangular platforms, rather than by singular steel piles driven into the ocean floor. The emerging technology might simplify the process of installing power equipment at sea, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said, which Principle will now have to prove in its proposal.

“There are no floating offshore wind-energy projects in the United States,” Jewell said. “How they interact with the fishing industry, how they interact with the marine ecosystem, all of these things need to be understood.”

In Nantucket Sound, a wind company has been given the go-ahead to install 130 wind turbines, which under average winds could provide Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket with 75 percent of their power needs. Rhode Island-based wind company Deepwater Wind is also planning a five-turbine installation off the coast of Rhode Island, a project the company says could power 17,000 homes.

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