Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has announced that the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) has voted unanimously to approve the proposed construction of a 479-foot-tall, 5 MW wind turbine generator prototype in the lower Chesapeake Bay, three miles off the Eastern Shore town of Cape Charles.
The construction of the prototype turbine is scheduled to be completed in late 2013. According to the governor's office, the design life of the prototype turbine is expected to be 20 years or more, and the submarine cable system is expected to last more than 100 years.
The proposal was submitted by Gamesa Energy USA, which is partnering with Huntingon Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding to develop and test new offshore wind technologies that aim to reduce the cost of wind power.
The purpose of the project is to advance the demonstration of Gamesa's new offshore technology, the G11X, which is specifically designed for deployment in offshore wind environments.
The information collected by the construction and operation of this prototype will help to fine-tune this new technology for worldwide commercial market deployment by 2015.
The VMRC enthusiastically approved the project, which includes the installation of a steel monopile foundation and tower with a maximum blade-tip height of 479 feet above mean sea level, stone riprap scour protection around the foundation base, and the installation of 15,219 linear feet of submerged power cable buried a minimum of six feet below the seabed.
The cable will connect the wind turbine to the Cape Charles electrical grid through the Bay Coastal Railroad property in Cape Charles Harbor in approximately 53 feet of water.
According to McDonnell's office, VMRC's public-interest review of the project concluded that it would not impact commercial or recreational marine activities. Rather, the project may enhance recreational fishing on the Eastern Shore, because the structure likely will attract fish looking for shade and shelter. The fish, in turn, will attract anglers. The agency received no objections from the public.
VMRC's approval of the proposal came with several stipulations, which Gamesa agreed to, including the following:
- A bond or letter of credit of at least $2.1 million to pay for removing the structure if it is decommissioned,
- Payment of a one-time royalty of $52,667 for use of the state-owned water bottom, and
- A comprehensive scientific study of the turbine's underwater acoustical potential impact on marine life under a variety of wind and weather conditions.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science suggested the study but does not anticipate the noise emanating from a wind turbine will have any significant negative environmental impacts on a section of the bay that routinely is subject to extensive small-boat usage, as well as numerous transient ship freighters. However, because this project is a prototype, the VMRC felt it was beneficial to have detailed scientific marine acoustical impact information in the event the technology is deployed elsewhere.
The project now requires approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and review by the U.S. Coast Guard.