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Dominion to bid on Md.’s offshore acres

Dominion Resources Inc. hopes to claim a piece of Maryland’s renewable energy market.

The Richmond, Va.-based energy company, which has 27,000 retail electric customers in Baltimore, announced Tuesday that it had filed with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to bid on a lease for all 80,000 acres of seabed off Ocean City that have been designated for wind turbines.

BOEM will name all of the bidders, once they are approved as financially qualified, in a Final Sale Notice that it expects to publish in late spring.

Maryland’s offshore site has the potential to produce between 850 and 1,450 megawatts through wind generation — enough to power 300,000 homes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Dominion has said that acquiring this site could save it money because it has other wind farms in the area and is planning more. It already holds a lease on 113,000 acres off the shore of Virginia.

“Given the proximity to our leased area off of Virginia and the excellent port in Hampton Roads, there should be economies of scale that could benefit both regions,” Mary Doswell, senior vice president for Dominion’s alternative energy solutions unit, said in a statement Tuesday.

Dominion won the Virginia bid last year. That site is capable of producing about 2,000 megawatts, according to Dominion, which could power up to 500,000 homes. The only other participant in the auction, which went for six rounds, was Apex Virginia Offshore Wind LLC.

Dominion has said it expects the site there to be operational within a decade.

“Dominion wants to be a major player in offshore wind development, and we are actively looking for ways that we can make it more affordable,” said Dan Genest, a spokesperson for Dominion’s generation division.

Dominion also owns a 50 percent stake in two on-shore wind farms in West Virginia and Indiana. According to its website, the company is exploring other land options in Virginia.

Dominion currently offers a program called Green Power, in which customers can pay extra to ensure that a portion of their energy comes from renewable sources. There are currently just over 21,000 customers in this program — 20,753 residential, 228 commercial and 29 governmental.

The renewable energy for the program consists of 78 percent wind, 21 percent biomass and 1 percent solar.

“We applaud any business and any attempt to promote and advance clean, renewable energy,” said Josh Tulkin, Maryland director for the Sierra Club. “No company is evil; no company is perfect.”

Tulkin did say, however, that the company’s involvement plays to environmentalists’ argument against Dominion’s proposal to export liquefied natural gas out of Cove Point in Southern Maryland.

“The fact that they see an economic opportunity there really underscores that Cove Point is not the only place for jobs,” he said. “Why does it need to so aggressively pursue the Cove Point project?”

This project has been the center of controversy among local and national environmental groups. Environmentalists are concerned with the impacts of the proposed natural gas exportation practices, as well as the increased demand for hydraulic fracturing — a method of extracting natural gas from underground shale deposits, which some say is risky. Some community members have also expressed their worry that the additional activity at Cove Point would disturb nearby neighborhoods.

But Dominion has continued to promote the idea, even placing advertisements in area newspapers. It won the support of the Calvert County Board of Commissioners and approval from the U.S. Department of Energy. A permit hearing about the project is scheduled Thursday before the Maryland Public Service Commission.

After Tuesday’s announcement, Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said he remains unconvinced by Dominion’s renewable efforts.

“It is very hard to take them seriously as a wind power company. It’s a master PR stroke,” he said. “What they’re really serious about is fossil fuels, which is why they’re trying to build the facility at Cove Point.”

Dominion has said that exporting from that location would help the environment, by providing countries like Japan and India with cleaner-burning natural gas.

Tidwell and others argue that the processes necessary to extract and transport that fuel cause harm that outweighs the benefits.

“Wouldn’t it be better to take that (money) and ask them to invest that in wind power?” he said. “Then I would say Dominion is finally a clean-energy company.”