Governor McDonnell announced yesterday that Virginia had officially signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and nine other East Coast governors to form the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium. The purpose of the Consortium, according to the MOU, is to “coordinate issues of regional applicability for the purpose of promoting the efficient, expeditious, orderly and responsible development of the wind resources of the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.”
Energy has always been a problem for the major population centers on the East Coast. Much of the power is imported from the Midwest via long transmission lines, which equals high costs. Offshore wind has a strong appeal, as it will allow the power to be generated close to where it is consumed. Additionally, as an industry that is completely new to the United States, it necessarily means job creation and economic growth – two things that are an extremely high priority to Governor McDonnell.
According to Secretary Salazar:
“Renewable energy resources hold great economic promise. By one estimate, if our nation fully pursues its potential for wind energy on land and offshore, wind can generate as much as 20 percent of our electricity by 2030 and create a quarter-million jobs in the process.”
McDonnell commented on today’s agreement:
“Today is a major step forward in the effort to make Virginia a national and global leader in offshore wind production. Our deepwater port, relatively shallow offshore waters, and offshore wind speeds give us the ability to move quickly to harness wind energy and bring it to market. Moving forward with offshore wind energy production gives us yet another opportunity to further position Virginia as “The Energy Capital of the East Coast.” By signing this Memorandum of Understanding with my fellow east coast governors and Secretary Salazar, we have indicated a mutual desire for federal-state cooperation on wind energy that will lead to greater production, and more jobs, not just in Virginia but all along the east coast.”
As McDonnell pursues his vision of making Virginia the “Energy Capital of the East Coast”, today’s news has an especially appealing feature. The Department of the Interior has decided to locate its regional renewable energy office in Virginia. This decision was hailed by offshore wind enthusiasts in the Commonwealth as a sign of recognition of Virginia’s many built-in assets that make offshore wind energy a natural fit and will allow Virginia to become a leader in the industry.
This announcement is the shot-in-the-arm that the offshore wind industry has been looking for in Virginia. As the DOI has had its resources dominated by the oil spill in the Gulf, momentum for offshore wind ironically has been flagging. The industry was hoping for permitting timelines to be truncated and to see some forward movement on offshore wind development. All that has come to a screeching halt while the focus is on the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
As the oil spill is finally dealt with, attention will once again come around to alternative and renewable energy resources. The offshore wind industry hopes that there will be a renewed surge of interest, launching the United States forward in the development of this new resource. Virginia is already poised to capitalize on this new industry, having the best-suited harbor and port system to manufacture and transport the massive components. This will mean thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic investment, should the industry finally get off the ground.