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Offshore Va. Wind Development Plumbs The Ocean

By STEVE SZKOTAK

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) â¿¿ Before energy companies invest in developing wind energy off Virginia's coast, they'll need to know what's out there: sea life, what the ocean floor is like, shipping routes, migratory birds and wind speeds. A Virginia Beach startup has begun the daunting task of collecting that data.

Founded by Navy veterans, Sound Conclusions LLC has placed a half-dozen beach ball-sized buoys in the waters off the resort city to monitor marine mammals such as endangered right whales and other aquatic life. The company has gathered 44,000 hours of data that must be reviewed second-by-second and the work is being done on its own dime. The founders are guessing that the information has value to the 10 energy companies that have signaled their interest in developing the federally designated lease area about 25 miles off the coast.

The company's self-appointed survey illustrates the challenges of building an offshore wind industry in the U.S., which lags most of the world, and the opportunities for economic development. Proponents have estimated an offshore wind industry could create up to 10,000 jobs, not to mention clean, renewable energy to hundreds of thousands of households.

Sound Conclusions principals Donald "Keith" Stevenson and Steven C. Pascuzzi presented some of their findings Thursday at a meeting of the Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority, which is promoting the development of wind power and a new industrial base to support it.

"The biggest thing for us," Stevenson said during a break in the meeting, "is we're proponents of the wind energy concept because it's right off Virginia Beach, the Virginia coast, where we live. We wanted to at least try to make some effort to push it along."

The federal government expects to conduct an auction this year, perhaps as early as this spring, of the parcels available for wind development in the 130-square-mile lease area. The companies already expressing an interest include the state's largest electric utility, Dominion Virginia Power, and Energy Management Inc., developer of the nation's first offshore wind project off Massachusetts' Cape Cod.

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