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Virginia mulls offshore wind energy

Momentum building behind fledgling renewable energy sector.

By Daniel J. Graeber

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Virginia's plans for offshore wind installations will be weighed against the environment and socioeconomic impacts, the federal government said.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it was assessing the potential impact of a planned 12 megawatt project backed by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

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Described as a research project, BOEM said the two wind turbine generators planned by Virginia would set the course for a future offshore wind industry in the state.

The federal department said its environmental assessment of the proposed project considers whether or not there will be any "environmental and socioeconomic consequences associated with the approval of the offshore wind research activities." Public comments on the assessment will be vetted before the BOEM signs off on the project, the agency said Monday.

Opponents of offshore wind energy argue it would pose a threat to migratory bird species and the marine ecosystem.

There are no commercial offshore wind projects in service in U.S. territorial waters. Last week, the U.S. Interior Department said new acreage available off the coast of Massachusetts will triple the amount available for wind energy development when more than 742,000 acres off state's coast will go on the auction block in late January.

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The federal government estimates that, if fully developed, the acreage could yield as much as five gigawatts of wind energy.

Construction for what's expected to be the first offshore wind farm, Block Island, is expected to begin off the Rhode Island coast next year.

The Rhode Island government signed off on environmental permits in May.

The federal government said it's awarded seven commercial wind energy leases in Atlantic waters, bringing in more than $14 million in high bids.

Another lease is scheduled for waters off the New Jersey coast later next year.

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