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Meeting Launches Virginia Offshore Wind Panel

STEVE SZKOTAK

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) â¿¿ The Chesapeake Light Tower, a 1965-vintage lighthouse 13 miles off Virginia Beach, could find new life illuminating the potential for wind farms off the state's coast.

The light, which has been declared government surplus, is being looked at as a platform for instruments to collect meteorological, oceanographic and environmental data. The offshore wind industry, investors and suppliers will seek that information before investing in what is an emerging technology in the United States.

In the world of fossil fuels, the ocean testing is akin to drilling a test well.

The prospect of using the light â¿¿ a tower rising 120 feet above the ocean surface on steel pilings â¿¿ was contained in a report presented Tuesday at the inaugural meeting of an eight-member state panel created to promote the development of offshore winds.

The Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority meeting was devoted primarily to briefing members and presenting reports, including one by Dominion Virginia Power. The state's largest utility said its current transmission infrastructure has the potential to handle a large-scale offshore wind farm.

The panel's membership includes representatives from utility companies, investor groups, and others likely to have a stake in the development of offshore winds in Atlantic waters. One member, for instance, is with Orbital Sciences Corp., which is building a commercial spaceflight center on the Eastern Shore. NASA officials have expressed concerns about offshore activities because they might interfere with existing and future launch activities.

Bob Mathias, assistant to the city manager in Virginia Beach and a member of the authority, said the city is considering the purchase of the Chesapeake Light for long-range radar now located at a local military base. The Federal Aviation Administration has told the city that the radar's performance is diminished by high-rises, including the many that line the tourist city's oceanfront.

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