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RICHMOND (AP) -- Eight energy companies will bid Sept. 4 on a lease for a vast expanse of ocean off Virginia's coast set aside for the development of wind farms.

The Bureau of Ocean Management on Monday announced the scheduled auction of 112,800 acres on the Outer Continental Shelf, 23.5 miles east of Virginia Beach. It is an important step in establishing what will be among the first wind turbines in offshore U.S. waters.

The companies in the running for the new energy industry include the state's largest utility, Dominion Virginia Power, and Energy Management Inc., developer of the Cape Wind project in federal waters off Massachusetts' Cape Cod.

The entire Virginia lease area has the potential of generating 2,000 megawatts of electricity, enough energy to power 700,000 households.

Gov. Bob McDonnell and environmental advocates are calling the auction a milestone.

McDonnell calls the auction an 'exciting and significant' step while the group Oceana calls it a milestone in the development of a new energy industry in the U.S.

The Sierra Club's Virginia chapter says wind farms and other clean energy initiatives are needed to combat the impacts of climate change.

AP-WF-07-22-13 1616GMT

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