Offshore Wind Power in Virginia

Nobody said development of a wind energy system off the Virginia coastline would be easy. Conflicts with interests already using the state’s coastal waters are inevitable. But the good news for supporters of the offshore wind power source is that those interests are beginning now to work together to resolve the conflicts.

Virginia is still viewed as a prime area for the development of offshore wind farm plants because of the relatively shallow ocean bottom 20 miles off the coast and the prime winds out there. As The Associated Press reported recently, the state also has a deepwater port and a coastal industrial base needed to support an offshore wind turbines industry.

A conference held last month at Virginia Beach showed that many of the conflicts that have arisen can be resolved if those involved will work together to increase the use of the expansive Atlantic off the coast.

Among the interests that see a potential conflict with the wind turbines are the Defense Department, the commercial fishing industry and the Virginia Port Authority. Their representatives told the Virginia Offshore Wind Conference that their interests need to be considered during the siting of wind turbines.

While representatives of each said the possible conflicts could be worked out, their comments reflected what one official called the very busy waters off the Virginia coast. But there’s a lot of water out there — surely enough to be shared by the interests competing for it.

Ships whose home port is the Norfolk Naval Base all sail in those waters and conduct a variety of trials, some including live weapons. The naval base is the world’s largest and home to the East Coast’s carrier fleet.

The state’s commercial port is the sixth largest in the nation. Officials there are concerned about the huge wind towers interfering with shipping lanes.

A spokeswoman for commercial fishing interests said fishing is already federally regulated in terms of where they can fish. Wind turbines, she said, have the potential to further limit their fishing grounds.

The conference brought together all the players, including offshore wind power advocates, to present their concerns. They said it was important to voice those concerns now before the ocean bottom is tapped for wind farms. Jeff Keever of the Virginia Port Authority said the idea behind the conference was to help "create the awareness with those who are going to decide where the proper siting is for offshore wind farm development."

An official with the Department of the Interior diminished the differences among the interests and said leasing of offshore tracts could begin as soon as next year. That would then trigger two years of environmental reviews.

What’s at stake in all of this? An official with Dominion Virginia Energy said that in terms of megawatts, there is no other renewable alternative energy source that delivers on the scale of offshore wind farm plants. The utility’s job is to make that wind power affordable for its customers.

Offshore wind farm plants have to be part of the wave of the future in terms of generating renewable energy for Virginians. Conferences like the one held at Virginia Beach will ensure that all the various interests can work together to make it happen.