WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) -- Approval of a wind-energy research plan in the federal waters off Virginia's coast is a pathway to commercial sector development, the state's governor said.
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced consent for the first-ever wind energy research facility offshore Virginia. The research plan envisions the installation of two 6-megawatt turbines, which could generate enough power to meet the annual demands of 3,000 homes.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said federal approval supports state plans to become the first in the nation to advance an offshore wind energy program.
"This research project is the gateway to commercial development of offshore wind which will help diversify our Commonwealth's energy mix and support our efforts to a build a new Virginia economy," he said in a statement.
The BOEM moved ahead with its environmental assessment of the proposed project two years ago to consider whether or not there will be any "environmental and socioeconomic consequences associated with the approval of the offshore wind research activities."
Wind energy development up and down the New England coast has been met with opposition from preservationists worried about the potential threat to coastal habitats and aesthetics. Similar opposition emerged in response to now-abandoned federal plans to open waters in the Atlantic Ocean up to oil and gas drillers.
In February, Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam added his name to a growing list of opponents to Atlantic drilling plans, saying the regional tourism industry would be threatened by oil and gas development.
Deepwater Wind, one of the developers behind the Block Island wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island, started construction on turbine foundations last year. The project should yield 30 megawatts of electric power, powering the 17,000 homes on Block Island, 12 miles from the mainland, that currently use diesel fuel for electricity.
There are no offshore wind farms in commercial operation in the United States. Offshore wind already generates 8,760 megawatts of power in Europe and Asia.