2012 was a big year for Atlantic offshore wind, and 2013 promises to be an even bigger year for its development off the coast of Virginia. But as to what year we actually see any of its electrons powering our homes in Virginia, that's anybody's guess.
In 2012, our Virginia WEA (wind energy area) - a 112,799 acre area 23 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach - was identified and cleared for development by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) after consultation with all interest groups, including the military, shipping and fishing industries. It's an area capable of providing 2400 megawatts of power-enough to power over 500,000 homes and create thousands of jobs in manufacturing and supply chain businesses.
Very exciting stuff! And kudos to the Obama administration for fast-tracking Atlantic offshore wind development. In addition to the lease sales announced for Virginia and Rhode Island, BOEM has put out a call for interest from developers for areas off North Carolina's coast, is considering lease proposals in Maine and New York, and is conducting preliminary environmental assessments for areas off South Carolina and Massachusetts.
Three proposals off New Jersey's coast have progressed to a point where BOEM is now looking at a proposal to link up the three areas to each other via an offshore transmission backbone. Maryland's excitement for developing its wind energy area has led to legislation that would support purchase agreements for the renewable energy. Finally, in Delaware, BOEM issued a lease to Bluewater Wind, which is off and running with all its preliminary site assessments.
Virginia is well placed in the Atlantic offshore wind race. In February 2012, BOEM issued a Call for Interest for Virginia, and eight developers responded. Later in 2012, BOEM asked for public comment about the potential auction format, then acquiesced when the Commonwealth (apparently acting under the influence of Dominion Power) urged that our entire WEA be leased to one bidder who would be allowed a prolonged phase-in period. The opening bid for the anticipated Spring 2013 auction starts at $5 per acre, for a total of $563,995, plus $ millions in surety bonds. The winner will have to spend millions more dollars to conduct the necessary studies before submitting a construction and operations plan. Deep pockets required!
It is very likely that the company 1) winning $76 million from the Commonwealth as reward for purchasing cheap, out-of-state renewable energy credits from pre-WWII facilities, 2) including zero offshore wind in its integrated resource plan mapping electricity generation for the next 15 years, and 3) now putting all its eggs in the fracked natural gas basket with proposals for three fracked-gas plants in Virginia, will emerge the winner of BOEM's auction. Once sold to this company, Virginia offshore wind prospects might just come to a screeching halt. That company is Dominion Virginia Power, one of the nation's largest utilities and Virginia's biggest polluter.
Judging by the fervor of activity up and down the Atlantic, BOEM appears anxious to satisfy the President's agenda and provide him with a big American "win" on the renewable energy front. The energy resource and the job-creating potential are just too huge to tolerate any slipping from that aggressive agenda.
And it's an agenda that involves the entire Atlantic coast, where we can succeed only if every state does its part. The estimated $200 billion in economic activity comes when every Atlantic coast state is lined up with wind farms off each state. That investment in turn supports 300,000 new jobs including the American manufacturing of the 8,000 parts that go into each wind turbine thus lowering the cost for generating that electricity. There can't be any holes in that line-up. The crisis of climate change demands that states look beyond the short-term energy agenda pushed by Big Oil and Big Coal. That's why Virginians need to press BOEM to approve only proposals, contracts and plans that move us aggressively yet responsibly to seeing steel in the ground as quickly as possible and to reject attempts to stall or prolong its development.
Virginians have an opportunity to do so now with public comment on the proposed lease sale notice. Click here to send BOEM a message insisting that Virginia's upcoming lease sale be conditioned such that the winning bidder be required to develop our WEA in its entirety and as soon as possible.
Our comments at this stage will have only limited impact, however. The lease itself won't hinder any Dominion plan to stall and otherwise prolong Virginia's WEA development. The Construction and Operating Plan (COP), due in five years, will contain Dominion's multi-phased plan stretching development of Virginia's WEA to however long it choses, say 30, 40, 45 years.
At that point, BOEM could reject Dominion's COP on the grounds that it is too prolonged. But Dominion could respond with a COP to develop only a small portion of Virginia's WEA and forfeit the remaining lease areas back to BOEM. So five years after the monopoly monopolizes our WEA, we'd be back to the drawing board.
Slowing the process further is an extensive Federal permitting process following approval of the COP, to include permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, EPA, just to name a few. While BOEM has been laser-focused on quickly moving along the WEA identification and leasing process, it will soon turn its attention to speeding up the permitting process with coordinated concurrent efforts.
So ours is a drumbeat that must live for five years and more. But as long as we keep the vision of that clean energy future in sight, we can win out over the fossil fuel forces. We need all hands on deck to keep the pressure on all players from BOEM to Dominion to the Obama administration to our state regulators at the State Corporation Commission.
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