Virginia Senate Republican Caucus

Virginia Rehearses the Energy Turn

tjcosgrove's picture
Thu, 2010-05-06 20:00 -- tjcosgrove
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Sen. Frank Wagner was recently featured in an article published in the Financial Times Deutschland.  The translation of the article is below.

Wagner Article in Financial Times Deutschland

After the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico the enthusiasm for offshore oil drilling shrinks for the east coast states in the U.S.

 Friday, 7 May, Before the Neptune Statue, where the ten meters high sea god out greenish bronze is holding his triton into the clear sky, the environmentalists meet at the oceanfront of Virginia Beach. Between sun chairs and a children's game castle they spread a black tarpaulin on the white sand. Black like the oil that is hitting the shoreline of Louisiana and Mississippi. "This is what the future could look in Virginia!" says Eileen Levandoski of the Sierra club. She wears a dark-blue garrison cap; the spring sun has turned her face red. "We want the people to get an impression of what drilling for oil could mean for our coasts."

 The first sunbathers of the season and the people sitting on bar stools at the Hilton with their lattes cannot be frightened. Only a few reporters ask the demonstrator's questions. "Typical," says Frank Wagner, "everywhere there are these small groups that dominate the media." Wagner represents the city of Virginia Beach in the Virginia State Senate, where the republican fights side by side with Governor Robert McDonnell for the right to drill for oil and gas off the Virginia coast.

 For more than 20 years no offshore drilling was allowed because of environmental issues on the U.S. Atlantic coast. The Barack Obama administration signaled at the end of March that they wanted to start test drilling to begin at the end 2012. For McDonnell the victory seemed to be within easy reach and the environmentalists seem, to many Americans, to be unreasonable.  Since the accident, offshore construction work in the Gulf of Mexico has changed and McDonnell is suddenly on the defensive.

 With the coast from Mississippi to Florida being threatened by the oil spill the plans of the governor have shifted. Virginia has a comprehensive energy concept. They want to use coal, nuclear power and renewable energy sources such as sun and wind. The passion of the governor is valid however, for the investigation and development of the presumed oil reservoirs off the coast of Virginia. McDonnell wanted to use oil and gas to bring Virginia back to theglorious past in enjoyed when coal was plentiful. Whether these plans will be pursued further will be determined by the policy in Washington. "We in Virginia have no control," says Wagner.

Robert Matthias, the Administrative Manager of Virginia Beach, explained to the participants attending a meeting at the Virginia Beach Conference Center that possible finds of oil and gas off the Virginia coast could bring in 5,500 new jobs, investments up to $7.8 billion and $271 millions in tax revenue for the state and municipalities, within the first ten years. Along the Gulf of Mexico the oil industry has created 80,000 jobs with salaries 30% higher than the regional average. But Matthias knows that "after what happened in the gulf of Mexico it becomes much more difficult to begin drilling off the east coast."

The Department of the Interior in Washington has stopped issuing permits for offshore drilling for the time being. Three planned public hearings scheduled in May were called off. The official reason given is that the department is overloaded due to the need to resolve the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

That change in public opinion puts President Obama and the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, under a great deal of pressure. Since the end of March, the agreement to drill for oil off the coast has dropped 72% to 58%. Today 69% are concerned that offshore drilling for oil could harm the environment compared with 49% one month ago; it could drop even more. The leakage at the sea-bottom is not still plugged and tremendous quantities oil are nearing the gulf coast.

Perhaps it is good that Governor McDonnell and Senator Wagner still have other plans. They want Virginia to develop wind energy. On the jetty in front of Davis Boat Works in Newport News there is a beautiful blue sky; to the left an aircraft carrier is tied up at the port of Norfolk; to the right the Old Dominion Terminal with coal from West Virginia on freighters bound for Europe; and ahead in the bay there could soon be windmills by Vestas or Siemens, where researchers are testing for a planned wind park off the coast.

The Republican Wagner likes an opponent of the environmental protection laws that Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman brought to the U.S. Senate; he does not believe in global warming. He does not object to President Obama's plans to develop ways to promote renewable energy. "Nobody doubts that fossil energy sources will end. We must develop a logical transition plan." The wind in the Atlantic off Virginia's coast could be the solution - this is an opinion Wagner shares with environmentalist Levandoski. "Wind energy, not oil must be our focus. Generally speaking, we have the best wind in the country."

Rarely have opinions about energy been agreed to so easily. "During the debate over oil and gas in high degrees, seems polarized, while offshore wind projects are meaningful," say George Hagerman, energy expert at Virginia Tech. Two weeks ago the government approved its first wind park before the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. This caused hope in Virginia. A study of the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Corporation assumes windmills have a capacity of up to 3,200 megawatts, 10% of the Virginia's power requirement. Two local enterprises, Apex and Seawind, have shown interest; together they want to install to 2,300 megawatts. The shipyards in the region could produce turbines and rotor blades for this purpose - as has already happened in Emden.

So far the wind plans come very slowly. The doubts of the tourism industry could be eliminated fast, the 20 kilometers planned for the wind park off the coast would barely be seen from the shoreline. Other important participants also have doubts, the four military bases in Hampton Roads, like the area around Virginia Beach, are called the largest employer is in that Region. The Navy and the Air Force are afraid that windmills could impair their operations. "Without the military nothing happens," says Matthias. The Pentagon has proposals for the areas the military considered to be suitable for windmills.

Researcher Hagerman also finds that the energy on all fronts must be advanced, not only in 20 years, if the scope of action by man shrank drastically. He also regards the oil plans pragmatically and says that we must first find out if drilling is worth it. "It can do no harm to know, what the inventory is," says Hagerman.