By the end 2017, two wind turbines off the coast of Virginia could be supplying 12 megawatts of power to the nation’s power grid, providing government energy regulators with valuable information about the practicality of large offshore wind farms.

The turbines are to be constructed under a 30-year wind energy research lease announced on March 24 by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The lease, the first of its kind to be executed by BOEM, calls for the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) to “design, develop and demonstrate a grid-connected, 12-megawatt (MW) offshore wind test facility” in federally managed waters 24 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach.

The test area is located adjacent to the 113,000-acre Virginia Wind Energy Area, which is leased by Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Virginia Power for future wind farm development. DMME has selected Dominion to and operate the test project under two federal grants totaling $51 million.

Included in the project are two  500-ft tall, 6kW turbines to be built by French turbine manufacturer Alstom, which has a turbine engineering, manufacturing and service center located just outside Richmond. Dominion is also responsible for building the underground transmission cable, expected to come ashore at the Camp Pendleton State Military Reservation, and ancillary facilities such as meteorological buoys.           

BOEM estimates that the turbines could generate enough electricity to power 3,000 homes, potentially clearing the way for full development of the VWEA. The research lease will help state and federal agencies and the wind power industry assess the efficiency of design, manufacturing, and installation practices; offshore wind patterns; operations, and long-term exposure to weather conditions, including hurricanes and other Atlantic storms.