Virginia's Offshore Battle: Wind Vs. Oil Drilling

Potential for off-shore drilling eyed

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    The Obama administration's proposal to exclude Virginia from offshore drilling exploration has angered many top politicians in the commonwealth who view drilling as a potential source of jobs. But the decision has reinvigorated environmentalists' arguments that there's more to gain from wind power.

    So how do the two actually compare? Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell points to $250 million annually in revenue sharing payments from potential offshore oil and gas leases. "And more than 1,900 jobs could be created," says Jeff Caldwell, McDonnell's press secretary.

    As for offshore wind, the environmental group Oceana says there could be tens of thousands of jobs created by offshore wind farms in Virginia.

    "We could be talking about as many as 17,000 jobs in operations and maintenance," says Oceana's Jackie Savitz. "And in terms of construction, we're talking about another 30,000 jobs."

    So for wind power, there could be many more jobs, but maybe less state revenue. Savitz says those jobs would materialize only if the supply chain for wind farms is based in Virginia -- as opposed to another state or another country.

    "It's really a matter of who gets there first," says 

    McDonnell and former Gov. Tim Kaine have called for a combination of oil and renewables including wind, but Savitz says there's a problem with that.

    "When you try to do both, they end up competing with each other," she says. "They need some of the same parts, same ships. It drives costs up."

    Not so, argues Tim Ryan, president of wind developer Apex Wind in Charlottesville, Va.

    "Hampton Roads is a tremendous resource in terms of shipyards, dock areas, manufacturing capabilities," Ryan says. "There are plenty of opportunities to do offshore wind and offshore oil and gas."

    The real barrier to wind isn't drilling, Ryan adds. Instead, it's expiring federal incentives and a lack of state incentives in Virginia. 

    And, of course there is more to compare than money and jobs, add the environmentalists. While oil pollutes, wind does not, they say.