A Mighty Wind (Farm) in Virginia Beach

Construction of vast wind farms off the coast of Virginia Beach is realistic and doable, a team of academic and industry researchers has concluded. The study, part of a $1.4 million state study of alternate energy sources in the Old Dominion, is only halfway through but members of the group told the Virginian-Pilot that they saw no major obstacles.

“We’re not seeing any show-stoppers,” said Larry Atkinson, an oceanographer at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.

The team of energy experts has focused on a scenario of installing about 100 wind turbines 12 miles of the shore at an estimated cost of $250 million. The whirling, 300-feet-tall turbines would take advantage of strong, consistent winds — and would not be visible from shore. Modeled after a project in Denmark, the wind farm would produce 1/3 as much electricity as the coal-fired coal plant that Dominion is building in Wise County for an estimated cost of $1.8 billion.

A big advantage of the location is its proximity to a major population center, Hampton Roads. The electricity would have to be transmitted only a short distance, reducing electricity leakage and the capital cost of building a transmission line — in contrast to the giant wind farm in the empty plains of Texas proposed by T. Boone Pickens.

Neil Rondorf, vice president for maritime operations at Science Applications International Corp., told writer Scott Harper, that the area off Virginia Beach was “probably the best place, all-around, of any site on the East Coast.”

Rick Webb, a senior scientist at the University of Virginia who has opposed ridge-line development of wind farms in the Allegheny Mountains, agrees that off-shore wind makes sense. “If wind energy development in the eastern U.S. is going to make a real rather than symbolic contribution to solving our energy and air pollution problems, it will certainly be offshore development,” he told Harper.

Bacon’s bottom line: If the preliminary estimates are anywhere close to accurate, the Virginia Beach wind farms could generate electricity for less than half the up-front capital cost of the Wise coal facility, lower ongoing operating costs, and zero fuel costs — without the environmental problems. This looks like a winner all the way around. Again, assuming the preliminary estimates are remotely on target, the commonwealth should elevate off-shore wind farming to its Number One energy priority. Right now.

(For more detailed information about off-shore wind farms, see the article I wrote nearly two years ago, “Wind Shear.”)

(Hat tip: Rick Webb. Photo cutline: The Horns Rev windfarm in Denmark. Photo credit: Cape Cod Today.)

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27 responses to “A Mighty Wind (Farm) in Virginia Beach”

  1. floodguy Avatar

    The same people saying its okay for a huge wind farm off VAB, are also saying there are too many military ROWs to permit natural gas drilling.

    As for the wind field, wouldn’t it be even better if they sited one geothermal turbine and one tidal turbine deeper under water beneath the windmill, while one wave generator bobbed at the surface for every wind turbine (which would require some 7 acres)? 4-renewable sources sharing the same area which would already be required for the wind turbines, while also sharing the same transmission. Sure would increase the reliability? A 70,000 power field would be nice – beyond it, gas drilling platforms. Amen to all of it!

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Not visible huh?

    My Nautical almanac tells me that a light house or other object 100 feet tall will be visible at 14 miles.

    I assume these things will have to be lighted, as hazards to anvigation, and maybe even to aricraft.


    If we can build this thing for 750 million, compared to 1.8 billion for a similar coal plant, then why are we spending 1.4 million to study the idea? It’s a no brainer.


    Floodguy is right. If you are going to build this stuff, and you are going to be out there doing maintenance anyway, why not try to take advantage of multiple sources?

    I suspect that tidal current turbines would work better south of Cape Hattaras (closer to gulf stream, and higher tides). I don’t think tidal current turbines and wave action generators are as far adnaced yet, but no harm in planning. Being actually in the water, they will take a lot more maintenance, and probably a lot of toxic antifouling paint, too.

    But, the upside could be tremendous. All those foundations will make a terrific fish reef, and one that is naturally a fish refuge, since boating in the area will most likely be restricted.

    Fish will grow and propagate in the fish refuge and this will hugely increase the number of fish availabe outside the refuge, as they migrate away.

    Anyone know how deep the water is 12 miles offshore in that area?


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    “reducing electricity leakage and the capital cost of building a transmission line “

    Probably need to put it underwater, which would raise the cost substantially. I’m not sure I buy that argument.


  4. floodguy Avatar

    A study for a wind farm off the Delaware, painted white or sky blue, showed that wind turbines would be visible as far as 11 miles offshore, but only as little toothpicks on the horizon. And that was on a clear day. There’s also a very large jpeg file on the internet, which shows the visual affects from similar distance of a wind farm off of the coast of Denmark. There’s zero issue there in my opinion.

    Transmission would have to be underwater.

    With the extreme weather from nor’easters and hurricanes, does anyone know how strong the blades are at withstanding winds greater than 60ks up to 100kts? How about the pentration of salt water spray into the turbines themselves?

    In 2007, the Univ of Delaware funded a research study on offshore wind off the mid-Atlantic. I believe it was used in part to encourage wind off Delaware. Shortly after the report’s release, BlueWater and the state of Delaware agreed to a two-phased proposal to build a 200 or 300 MW wind farm in the Atlantic off of the state’s coast.

    Here’s the link: http://www.udel.edu/PR/UDaily/2007/feb/wind020107.html

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    you’re know… we’re like the 2-pack a day guy worried about losing his hair or getting a wart on his nose.

    we’re more concerned if we can “see” the turbines that all the mercury and air pollution that comes from burning coal.

    issue 2 – Dominion, et al, says that we need to upgrade the grid – but apparently the current grid is not configured to handle wind/solar .. nor is it part of the upgrade plans…

    Why is Dominion hot after a new coal and nuke plant and tepid on wind power in Virginia?

    Has anyone thought about the Eastern Shore?

    there are lots of folks over there who would love to receive $1500 a month for turbine leases….as an alternative to raising chickens for Purdue….in share-cropper type arrangements.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The investor-owned electric utilities like Dominion want a bigger, more robust grid.

    but then they are saying that the current grid does not support wind/solar… but what they want in an updated grid .. does not support wind/solar any better than the existing.

    I’d say.. that all of us have a major dog in this hunt and that they should not be given the power to expand the grid UNLESS the new grid WILL support solar/wind.

    Of course.. given the current process with our SCC and DEQ – rightly or wrongly – they (and Kaine) appear to be little more than lap-dogs for Dominion.

    another wide-open opportunity for our conservatives to show that they are better than Warner/Kaine and that even though pro-business.. that they are also pro-taxpayer…

    but alas.. if the data on VPAP is any indication… this is truly snowball-in-heck territory…

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    I’m not concerned about seeing them any more (and probably a lot less) than I’m concerned with seeing your common eerday utility poles. Talk about ugly, but we seem to get used to them. I just dislike facts that don;t seem to be quite true.

    If you say it will look like a far-off line of toothpicks, that’s different from saying they won;t be visible. Saying they won;t be visible from shore doesn’t mean they won’t have significant effects, like diverting shipping. All I’m suggesting is that we look for the truth, instead of looking for sales pitches.

    What is the technology for transmitting high voltage unerwater? Does that mean you have to go to DC as was suggested for the recent power line proposal?

    I don’t like mercury any more than the next person, but I’ll say it again: it does not make sense to pay more to eliminate it than the savings is worth. If the numbers quoted are correct, this would seem to be a no brainer.

    But if this winds up costing $60 million per statistical year of life saved, then it means that every other danger should be assessed at the same level. For that kind of money you can probably save a lot more of other lives doing something different, and those people would have a legitimate right to complain about our spending priorites.

    It sounds crass, but it is only about fair and equal treatment, and conserving our resources by being efficient.


    “Why is Dominion hot after a new coal and nuke plant and tepid on wind power in Virginia?”

    Look at a national wind map. Virginia and most of the southeast has the lowest wind density in the nation. Power goes up like the square of the wind velocity. At five or six MPH average, it is barely worth the investment. If you are in the plains or Northwest, it is a lot different.

    Like fighting pollution, we should put our money where it will do the most good first.


    The blades are manufactured using aircraft technology, and they can withstand high velocity winds just as airplane wings and propellers do.

    The blades have mechanisms that change the angle of the blades to get the most power out, depending on wind velocity, like a variable pitch propeller. They also feather the blades and stop the rig entirely above a safe speed.


    Today’s paper quoted a study that says the grid has enough capacity to handle wind farms.


  8. Tom Haser Avatar
    Tom Haser

    I own an oceanfront property in Virginia Beach. While there are claims that the 300-ft tall turbines would not be visible from shore, I think it’s possible they would be (e.g., an earlier comment on this blog indicates they probably would be visible, including at night due to safety lighting). Either way, I am in favor of renewable energy like this. From the Virginia Beach coastline, you can see many commercial ships during the day and at night, and I don’t see how the turbines would be any ‘worse’ from the standpoint of the ocean view.

    The United States has to eliminate its dependency on foreign energy — this is an issue of national and economic security. So we should be investing in projects like this one big time. Also, this project seems low-risk to me because it’s reported to be patterned after a similar, operational project off the coast of Denmark.

    Question: Does anyone know where I can find a map of the area where the wind turbines would most likely be placed?

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    “From the Virginia Beach coastline, you can see many commercial ships during the day and at night, and I don’t see how the turbines would be any ‘worse’ from the standpoint of the ocean view.”

    I think that is an adult way of looking at things. We worry too much about too little, and not enough about how we decide to worry.


  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    there _are_ vertical wind turbines also… less efficient than the blade turbines but can be located in a lot more places ….where blade turbines might not be.

    but like I said.. we’re like the two-pack a day smoker… not concerned about the damage done to their lungs because they cannot see it… but pays good money for plastic surgery so they can look prettier.

    we do this with the environment too.

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    one more.

    we worry about the visual impacts of wind turbines but we ignore the visual impacts of blasting mountaintops away .. or what is left in the valley floors afterwards… or the acid runoff from the mining.

    The electricity needs of those who object to wind turbines is on the backs of folks who live where the mountaintops are blasted away…

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    I can’t imagine that the Navy would be terribly excited about this so near to the approaches of its base.

    NoVA Scout

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: Navy

    you know…. one or two freighter/tankers in the “wrong” hands could sink on purpose in the absolute worst place with respect to the Navy… with little effort…

    then we’d be in a real pickle because it would be a tad bit harder for us to send a saber-rattling force to Iran…


    how about turbines lining the Bay-Bridge tunnel path.. where the Navy doesn’t need to go anyhow?

    I think .., many of us are so focused on the status quo.. that we simply are unimaginative at obvious possibilities…

    although… any kind of energy producing infrastructure in a salt-water environment is going to be more difficult for sure…

    … we just found that out with those jersey-wall barriers on the Bay Bridge…..

  14. Jim Bacon Avatar

    I’m posting the following comment on the behalf of Rick Webb:

    Thanks Jim, for the “hat tip.” For the record, I am part of the research professional staff at the University. I am a Senior Scientist, not a professor. (Correction duly noted, and changed in the original post. — Ed.)

    For a quantitative comparison of offshore versus mountain-ridge wind energy potential in Virginia, start with slide # 5 in this presentation, Challenges and Opportunities for Offshore Wind Power in Virginia, made at the Southeast Regional Offshore Wind Power Symposium in 2007: http://www.clemson.edu/scies/wind/Presentation-Hagerman.pdf

    The slide indicates that turbines installed in a grid configuration at a density of 10 MW per sq.km in an ocean area of 640 sq.km (or 250 sq miles, the same area as the City of Virginia Beach) could produce 21,000 GWh/yr or 20% of Virginia’s 2005 electricity demand.

    This indicates that 6400 MW of installed capacity would operate with an annual capacity factor of 37.5%.

    21,000,000 MWh/yr / 8760 h/yr / 6400 MW = 0.375

    This compares favorably with the 25-30% annual capacity factor obtained by Appalachian ridgeline wind projects.

    For perspective I’ve calculated how many MW of turbine capacity on Appalachian ridgelines would be required to obtain the same generation.

    21,000,000 MWh/yr / 8760 h/yr / 0.30 = 7991 MW

    Given 2 MW turbines this would require about 4000 turbines, and at a spacing of 7 turbines per mile of ridgeline this would require about 570 miles of ridgeline, which is about 2X the length of the Blue Ridge Mountain chain in Virginia.

    It’s also interesting to note that the American Wind Energy Association’s own overly optimistic estimate of annual electricity generation potential for onshore wind development in Virginia is only 12,000 GWh/yr, much less than the estimate for the 250 sq mile offshore (City of Virginia Beach size) area. See: http://www.awea.org/projects/projects.aspx?s=Virginia.

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    Rick Webb makes good points.

    I would also note that the history on some wind farms is that 90% of their output occurs in 10% of the operational time.


  16. Anonymous Avatar

    Why do we think that a mountain with a flat top is uglier than one that is pointed or round?

    Why would we think that a vertical turbine is better looking than a rotary one?

    Why would we rail against cell towers for years and then suddenly accept wind turbines?

    Why do we worry about a few strings of high tension lines spoiling the landscape when virtually everyplace else is littered with utility poles?

    Why are we willing to spend a seemingly infinite amount to prevent one pollutant while we live happily with others?


    Larry is right about the marine environment. It is going to raise costs, but it gets you a free airflow, and you don’t need these things all over the land mass.

    I once sailed to Portugal, and by the time I got there, there was not one electrical device on the boat that still worked, except my navigation watch, which was hermetically sealed before I left.


  17. Anonymous Avatar

    It’s The Virginian-Pilot, not the Virginia-Pilot.
    As a former Landmarker, shame on you!

  18. Jim Bacon Avatar

    PG, Actually, I’d typed “Virginina”-Pilot…. transposing the last two letters. But a typo is a typo — thanks for pointing it out.

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    Reasonable people can debate specific projects and technologies, but it strikes me that there is a significant element of society that wants renewable energy to come from magic.

    If we don’t want to move back to caves, we need a lot of affordable energy even as we also move to more efficient use of energy. Plug-in hybrids anyone? Telecommuting?

    If we don’t have coal plants, we need nuclear plants, solar energy farms that take up hundreds of acres of land, wind farms where the wind blows and and a much more robust power grid.

    I noticed a poster at a local Fairfax County Rec Center made by what probably is an older elementary school student. It said “Go Green. Stop Using Fossil Fuels. Use Electricity.” Understandable for a 5th or 6th grader, but it seems to me that many adults reason the same way.

    Or maybe we will move back to caves.


  20. Anonymous Avatar

    “it strikes me that there is a significant element of society that wants renewable energy to come from magic. “

    Yep, or they want all pollution to magically go away.

    Falls in the same category and development combined with TDM.

    The anti-growth people will probably outlaw caves, or want really huge proffers.


  21. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Why do we think that a mountain with a flat top is uglier than one that is pointed or round?”

    or reshaping… landscapes… for dams or NASCAR raceways or Theme Parks or Oil Refineries…or power lines or interstate highways.


    but for electricity – choosing the destruction of mountaintops – which is the OPPOSITE of developed infrastructure – and it results in additional environmental damage as rain and creeks in that watershed drain through mining spoil… rocks, once buried.. now exposed to to produce acid runoff…

    then the coal goes to a plant where it is usually not considered a thing of beauty in the community where it operates..

    then the coal is burned to produce pollutants that put mercury and nutrients in already stressed waterways…

    .. and the air quality downwind of those plants adversely impacts the health of kids and the elderly and those who are sick….

    .. and alternatives… are opposed because they “mess up the viewscape” and chop up birds….

    I agree with the statement about folks wanting magical answers….

    but it’s worse than that – they want to feel “green”… but they don’t want to make the necessary choices to actually be greener…

    basically.. they want to do the easy things.. like recycling plastic bags and bottles… buying “green” products….

    we talk long and often in this blog about location specific subsidies but the two biggies are automobiles and …. electricity.

    and I’m surprised at EMR not weighing in on this…

    I don’t think there can be legitimate balance to ANY community if it requires gobs and gobs of electricity to be “functional” – and that electricity is not generated locally.

    It’s a huge location subsidy.

    It requires tremendous right of way for powerlines – that also mess up “vistas”…..

    Could it not be argued that a “true” balanced community should have self-contained electricity?

    and that community can choose whether they want coal or nukes or wind or solar or conservation or what combination thereof.

    stepping down off of soapbox… warily awaiting EMR’s stepping up to the podium….

  22. Anonymous Avatar

    Poster seen in an elementary school.

    “Go Green.
    Don’t Use Fossile Fuels, Use Electricity.”


  23. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    yes… I just read an article saying that transporting hydrogen to gas stations was silly.. that instead we should use electricity at gas stations to create hydrogen on the spot at each station…


  24. http://scfoj.tumblr.com/post/48762518/high-times-indeed

    Solar to hydrogen is getting closer. Why keep messing with transporting fossil fuels when on-site generation offers so much more efficiency?

  25. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    yes… this is truly exciting – if true because it means that hydrogen will be used essentially as a storage battery.

    but I’d like to see the relative merits …pros/cons of using solar to generate electricity vs hydrogen….

    and here’s why – a fueling station that has a sign up that says “sorry no fuel available due to cloudy conditions” is not going to be acceptable.


  26. Anonymous Avatar

    No doubt the filling stations will get their electricity from wind farms that will store the energy for cloudy days using compressed hot air.

    How efficient is it to convert mechanical energy to electricity so we can transmit it long distances (with losses along the way) only to convert it into chemical energy, which we then burn to convert back to mechanical energy?


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