Virginia's first offshore wind-energy turbine was approved Tuesday and, if built on schedule, it could be the first one up and running in the United States.
The pilot project will be a single giant stalk, expected to stand 479 feet tall, pounded into the sandy depths of the Chesapeake Bay about three miles off Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore.
The test turbine, underwritten by Gamesa Energy USA in cooperation with Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding, is a prototype for the spinning behemoths that clean-energy developers may soon buy and place miles from shore in the Atlantic.
The Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which regulates coastal ecosystems and fisheries, voted unanimously for the project after a public hearing in Newport News. No one opposed the project, which commission staff marveled at, given how this is the first turbine ever considered in state waters.
The state's approval requires more than $2 million upfront from the two companies in case something goes wrong. And the developers also have agreed to conduct sound-impact tests to see if the whirring noises from the spinning turbine will affect fish and marine mammals swimming in the area.
Gamesa and Newport News Shipbuilding also must pay more than $52,000 in royalties for using state-owned acreage where the turbine will stand and where a transmission cable will extend to Cape Charles. There, 5 kilowatts of wind-generated electricity will be brought ashore and sold as clean power.
John Daniel, an attorney representing the two project sponsors, said the companies are investing about $30 million and hope to complete construction by late 2013. It could operate for about 20 years.
The trial turbine will not require any permanent workers. But, Daniel said, construction should bring temporary work to an array of contractors, ship owners and engineers -- a harbinger of what commercial-size wind farms would create in jobs.
Daniel said the companies chose Cape Charles because of its deep water close to shore, and the warm embrace the coastal town gave to wind energy.
"We were looking for locations to best simulate offshore conditions," Daniels told the commission.
The turbine, in 53 feet of water, will be visible from Cape Charles and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
It is expected to cause some harm to the ample bird population at the southern tip of the Eastern Shore. But state experts said most birds fly slightly to the east of the turbine site, so that accidents should not be significant.
The project still needs permits from the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers, but those are expected to be issued soon, state and company officials said.
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