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Wind power looks likely for Va., but hurdles remain

Monday - 2/6/2012, 7:48am  ET

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - They've been talked about for years. Now, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey are actively seeking companies willing to build offshore windmills to produce electricity.

Eleven developers, including Dominion Virginia Power, already have expressed interest and could bid for offshore leases later this year.

That follows an announcement last week by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar that no major environmental damage was expected from offshore wind turbines.

But how fast will the turbines actually be in place?

"I would be optimistic that we would see commercial wind in the Atlantic certainly within this decade," says Jonathan Miles, a professor at James Madison University and director of the Virginia Center for Wind Energy at the school.

Miles says the wind turbines are likely to be set up in groups.

"The wind energy area that's been defined for Virginia is too far out to ever be visible from the coast," he says.

Among the biggest hurdles for wind power are making the turbines strong enough to withstand storms and finding the most effective way to deliver the power to land.

Dominion Virginia Power has expressed interest in building up to 400 turbines about 20 miles off the shore of Virginia Beach. Those turbines could generate enough electricity to power 500,000 homes.

Another concern will be the cost of the power. It could cost 28 cents per kilowatt hour, much higher than Dominion's current 11 to 12 cents per kilowatt hour being charged right now.

The higher price could be tied to the cost of constructing the turbines to withstand harsh conditions at sea.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Hank Silverberg and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)