RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia Dominion Power has submitted a high bid of $1.6 million for nearly 113,000 acres off the state's coast for the development of wind power.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said Dominion was one of two bidders. Eight energy companies were qualified to bid.
While it is expected to take years to site towering turbines 20-plus miles off Virginia Beach, the area has the potential to generate enough power for more than 700,000 homes.
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Nearly 113,000 acres off Virginia's coast went up for auction Wednesday, with eight energy companies eligible to bid on the right to develop wind farms that could power more than 700,000 homes.
Bidding began at 10:30 a.m. at a minimum of $2 an acre and ended about three hours later with top bid of $1.142 million. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is conducted the bidding, was to announce the winning bidder Wednesday afternoon.
The state's largest utility, Dominion Virginia Power, is among the energy companies that qualified to bid.
Following the auction, which will involve the entire 112,800-acre leasing area, the winning bidder will have about five years to submit proposed design and construction plans.
The development area 23.5 miles off Virginia Beach was carved out of the Atlantic 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.
The Virginia auction is the second time the federal government has sold competitive leases for wind energy on the outer continental shelf. In July, Deepwater Wind was the provisional winner with a bid of $3.8 million for an area more than 10 miles off Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Clean energy advocates said the Virginia lease auction is a milestone in the development of an offshore wind industry. The U.S. does not have an offshore wind farm, although several are in development.
"With this investment in clean energy would come thousands of jobs in the manufacture of components for these massive turbines and in the marine construction business," said Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club of Virginia.
Studies have estimated that the development of an offshore wind industry would create in the range of 10,000 jobs in Virginia.
Advocates of offshore wind power have said Virginia's port facilities and underused shipbuilding industry are key assets to develop a supply chain for the wind industry.
First, however, the U.S. must attract the manufacturers that are now primarily based in Europe, which has a huge advantage over the U.S. in terms of wind energy.
Oceana, an ocean advocacy group, said the biggest barrier to developing offshore wind energy is investment dollars. It called on Congress to provide a long-term extension of an investment tax credit for offshore wind.
"To get offshore wind turbines built, we must stimulate investment," said Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana's vice president for U.S. oceans.
Besides Dominion, the other companies qualified to bid on the Virginia leasing area are: Energy Management Inc., developer of the Cape Wind project in federal waters off Massachusetts' Cape Cod; Apex Virginia Offshore Wind; EDF Renewable Development Inc.; Fisherman's Energy; Iberdola Renewables Inc.; Sea Breeze Energy and Orisol Energy U.S. Inc.