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Dominion gets final US OK on offshore lease area

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Dominion Virginia Power has won final approval of its $1.6 million bid to lease nearly 113,000 offshore acres for the development of wind power.

Virginia's largest utility, which is a unit of Dominion Resources Inc., beat out one other bidder last month to win the nation's second lease of ocean floor dedicated to the development of towering wind turbines. The bid was subject to review by the U.S. Justice Department.

A Dominion spokesman said Tuesday that the Justice Department had no objections and the utility has signed lease documents.

Spokesman Karl R. Neddenien said the next step for Dominion is to deliver its site assessment plan to the federal government, followed by other deadlines involving geophysical surveys and design and construction techniques to be used.

Within five years of the lease signing, Dominion must present a construction and operations plan to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Full development of the area could power 700,000 homes by ocean winds, or 2,000 megawatts of electricity.

Neddenien said Dominion is "fully committed" to developing the leased Atlantic Ocean bottom about 23.5 miles off Virginia Beach on the outer continental shelf.

The Richmond-based power company is involved with offshore wind research projects intended to lower the energy source's cost, which is significantly higher than fossil fuels.

The development area was carved out of the Atlantic after extended negotiations involving the Navy, Coast Guard, commercial fishing interests, port officials and NASA, which operates a launch center on the Eastern Shore. This section of the coast is one of the busiest on the Eastern seaboard. It includes the world's largest naval base in Norfolk.

Clean energy advocates said the Virginia lease auction is a key step in the development of an offshore wind industry. The U.S. does not have an offshore wind farm, although several are in development.

Studies have estimated that the development of an offshore wind industry in Virginia would create in the range of 10,000 jobs.