Conference speakers tout the benefits of wind energy in Virginia

Virginia’s greatest energy resource is its coastal winds, but the state isn’t doing enough to harness that power, a group of environmental activists and some business people said at a conference on offshore wind power Saturday in Richmond.

Virginia has "one of the windiest coastlines on the planet," said Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a group that advocates development of offshore wind farm plants.

"It’s windy, it’s shallow, and it is really close to consumers, which makes it a good place for offshore wind power," said Tidwell, whose group organized the conference attended by more than 100 people and sponsored by several environmental groups.

A host of speakers, including former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, touted the benefits of wind turbines, saying that a network of wind farms off the coast could provide electricity for 750,000 homes and businesses in Virginia and create thousands of jobs.

"Offshore wind energy is the future," said McAuliffe, a businessman who has invested in green energy ventures. "It’s happening in other states. It is happening around the world. We need to be leading here in Virginia."

A report released in April by the Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority said offshore wind energy costs are higher now than other forms of new power generation, but those costs should decline as the new U.S. industry grows.

The report pegged offshore wind power costs now at $243 per 1,000 kilowatt-hours, based on U.S. Department of Energy figures. That compares with $211 per 1,000 kilowatt-hours with solar photovoltaic systems, $125 with combustion turbines, $114 using advanced nuclear generation, $113 with biomass energy and $109 with advanced coal plants.

Speakers at Saturday’s conference, including state Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, and representatives from the Sierra Club and the Green Jobs Alliance, characterized offshore wind as a renewable and clean energy source that ultimately will prove cheaper and more reliable than coal or oil.

The conservation group Oceana, which advocates protection of the oceans, supports offshore wind power because it would provide renewable energy that could counteract climate change, said Jackie Savitz, a scientist and senior campaign director for the organization.

Savitz said offshore wind turbines eventually could replace 83 percent of the other energy sources in Virginia such as coal-fired plants.

Tidwell said one purpose of the conference was to urge the state’s largest utility company, Dominion Resources, to invest in offshore wind. The company has invested in onshore wind farms in West Virginia and Indiana.

Yet state lawmakers have not done enough to provide incentives and set renewable-energy standards that would help spur the development of offshore wind farms, several speakers said.

"I’m disappointed in Virginia," McAuliffe said. "We are the only state in the mid-Atlantic region that doesn’t have a renewable-energy standard. That is a disgrace."

John Reid Blackwell,