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US OKs $47m for 2 wind turbines off Va. coast

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Local,Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Dominion Virginia Power will receive $47 million over the next four years to construct two wind turbines 26 miles off the coast for testing in ocean waters subject to hurricanes, the U.S. Department of Energy said Wednesday.

The demonstration project, among three nationally announced by DOE, is intended to speed U.S. development of wind power in vast ocean tracts. The nation lags behind Europe and Asia in the development of offshore wind, making wind power an expensive green energy alternative.

Dominion, Virginia's largest utility, submitted a successful $1.6 million bid in September to lease nearly 113,000 offshore acres for the development of wind power. Full development of the area could produce 2,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 700,000 homes.

The two 6-megawatt wind turbines will be located adjacent to the lease area and use a U.S.-designed twisted jacket foundation to ensure that offshore turbines can withstand a harsh ocean environment. They are scheduled to be completed in 2017 and will provide enough electricity to power up to 3,000 homes.

Mary C. Doswell, Dominion's senior vice president for retail and alternative energy solutions, said the turbines will use "innovative designs that will both lower the cost and lower the risk of future commercial scale offshore wind projects located in hurricane-prone regions."

Gov. Terry McAuliffe welcomed the news, saying the project will make Virginia a hub for research, development and construction of wind turbines off the state's coast and elsewhere in the U.S.

"The demonstration project alone will have an economic impact of approximately $10 million and create up to 100 jobs through the end of construction," McAuliffe said in a statement.

Industry studies have estimated that the development of a full offshore wind industry in Virginia would create about 10,000 jobs.

The ocean area designation for wind development is about 25 miles off Virginia Beach. It was carved out after extended negotiations involving the Navy, Coast Guard, commercial fishing interests, port officials and NASA, which operates a launch center on the Eastern Shore. This section of the coast is one of the busiest on the Eastern seaboard. It includes the world's largest naval base in Norfolk.

Virginia's U.S. senators, Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, agreed with McAuliffe that the demonstration project could make the state a center for offshore wind development. The U.S. lacks the infrastructure to construct massive ocean wind turbines, and some have said its shipbuilding industry could be a platform for the new industry.

"Virginia is an ideal hub for offshore wind — not only because of its optimal geography, but also for its manufacturing capacity, technical expertise, and strong commitment across industry, academia, and government," Kaine said in a statement.

The turbine project has the potential, Warner said, "to make Virginia a real leader in offshore wind and create high-skill jobs in the commonwealth."

Besides Virginia, the DOE also approved similar projects off Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Coos Bay, Oregon.

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Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap

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