The prospect of hundreds of windmills spinning out clean energy off the Virginia coast received a big boost Monday.
Federal officials announced they will hold an auction Sept. 4 for a lease to develop the big wind turbines about 25 miles from Virginia Beach. The lease sale would be just the second for offshore wind energy in the nation. The first is scheduled July 31 for an area off Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The Virginia sale “will mark an important transition from planning to action when it comes to capturing the enormous clean energy potential offered by Atlantic wind,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement.
Gov. Bob McDonnell said the wind project would create jobs and help the U.S. meet its energy needs.
Still, it could be nearly a decade and maybe more before our lights are powered by whirling blades off our coast, experts said.
That’s because the lease sale will be followed by years of planning and preliminary work. The work will include a study of the ocean bottom to see how well it would support the windmills, and a review of the windmills’ possible effects on birds and rare whales.
The auction will offer one lease of 112,799 acres off northern Virginia Beach. The site avoids existing uses of offshore water by parties including the military and the shipping industry, federal officials said.
The auction will begin with a price of $2 per acre, or $225,598.
Dominion Virginia Power, Charlottesville-based Apex Clean Energy and six other companies are eligible to bid.
The windmills could produce 2,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for about 700,000 homes, federal officials said.
There could be 300 or more windmills, but they would be out of sight from shore, officials said.
Chelsea Harnish, policy and campaigns manager for the Virginia Conservation Network, an organization of environmental groups, said the lease auction is one step in a long process, “but it’s moving us in the right direction.”