Yesterday Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced that a 479-foot-tall five-megawatt wind turbine generator prototype has been approved for construction in the lower Chesapeake Bay. The project will be located three miles off of the coast of Cape Charles on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and construction of the turbine is scheduled for completion in 2013.

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The Virginia Marine Resources Commission unanimously approved the project, which still requires a review by the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Another stipulation is the completion of a study that will gauge whether any underwater noise would have an impact on marine life. Overall, the project was quickly approved and a public interest review received no objections from the general public. Governor McDonnell enthusiastically claimed that the project’s approval is a step forward for Virginia’s clean technology industry and the diversification of the state’s energy portfolio.

The turbine, which could be the first in offshore U.S. waters if completed on time, is a partnership of the Spanish company Gamesa Energy and Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding. The turbine’s expected design life is 20 years, and the submarine cable system that will link the it to Virginia’s public energy grid is anticipated to last 100 years.

Governor McDonnell promoted the offshore wind turbine as a job generator and important for Virginia’s economic development. He also claimed the project has several environmental benefits, including improved air quality and better recreational fishing on the Eastern Shore because fish may be attracted to the structure for its shade and shelter.

The project could also signal a boom in wind power for Virginia. The state’s largest electricity provider, Dominion Virginia Power, has indicated that it is interested in leasing areas off the coast of Virginia for the development of wind energy. Dominion says wind energy has the potential to generate up to 2,000 megawatts of energy; enough to power half a million homes.

Via Bloomberg Business Week, Virginia Governor’s Press Office

Photos of the Eastern Shore, Cape Charles and Chesapeake Bay courtesy Leon Kaye