OFFSHORE WIND BASICS
VIRGINIA HAS THE POWER
After years of stakeholder meetings, Virginia’s federally-designated offshore Wind Energy Area (WEA) has been cleared of conflicts. The military, shipping and fishing industries, together with environmental scientists studying the area, all agree that this area is appropriate for development with proper safeguards for wildlife.
In September 2013, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) leased the development rights for Virginia’s WEA to Dominion Virginia Power. This 112,799-acre commercial lease area, located about 23.5 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach, is capable of generating at least 2,000 megawatts (MW) of power – enough electricity to power about 500,000 homes.
Each wind turbine is made with over 8,000 parts, many of which can be manufactured in Virginia. With its deep water port, world-class shipbuilding and maritime industries, and ready workforce, Virginia could become a major east coast hub for the offshore wind industry. Researchers concluded that with full build-out of this industry, 10,000 jobs could be created in Virginia. These are high-paying, local, career-length jobs that can’t be exported overseas.
VIRGINIA’S TWO TEST TURBINES
Since 2015, the Commonwealth of Virginia has held a 2135-acre research lease area adjacent to Dominion’s larger commercial lease area. Dominion is the lead developer of a test turbine project – called the “Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind” or CVOW. The project involves two 6 megawatt turbines and once developed, will provide the critical operational, weather and environmental experience needed for Dominion’s larger commercial lease development.
In July 2017, Dominion announced its partnership with Denmark-based Orsted. Orsted is a proven leader, having built more offshore wind farms than any other company worldwide. The energy group has “installed 22 wind projects around the world that generate 3.9 gigawatts, enough to power about 2 million U.S. homes”. Dominion will own the project, while Orsted has committed to delivering the project at a fixed price. Dominion anticipates filing for rate recovery approval with the SCC in mid-2018 and plans to have CVOW operational in 2020.
When built, CVOW offers a number of “firsts” that would benefit both Virginia and the U.S. It would be the first project owned by an electric utility company and the first in federal waters. It would also potentially be only the second offshore wind project in the nation behind the five-turbine, 30-megawatt (five turbines 6 MW each) Deepwater Wind project off the coast of Rhode Island that went online in late 2016.
BIRDS and MARINE MAMMALS
Installing the turbines 25 miles off the coast minimizes conflict with birds. Most birds migrate closer to the coast. The bigger threat to birds is climate change, according to every major U.S. environmental group. That’s why the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Oceana, Southern Environmental Law Center and many other conservation groups support offshore wind energy when properly sited. The endangered North Atlantic Right Whale transits the Virginia lease area. Virginia must work with BOEM and the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that right whales and other marine mammals are protected during offshore wind development and operation.
For many years, Dominion has slow-walked offshore wind in favor of fracked gas. Dominion’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), their forward looking plan for how the company will produce electricity, consistently calls for increased investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, thereby increasing its carbon pollution. Dominion’s plan calls for heavy investment in fracked gas infrastructure like power plants and pipelines that last for decades and threaten to crowd out renewable energy.
Dominion contends that its current projected price for offshore wind means it should be delayed well into the future. This is short-sighted as numerous factors lend to competitive pricing for offshore wind within the next decade:
- Offshore wind generates power close to the coastal cities where demand is highest, saving billions of dollars on the costs of transmission and grid congestion.
- Offshore wind is often load-following, blowing most strongly in the late afternoon when electricity demand peaks; this makes it an excellent complement to midday-peaking solar energy.
- With the crisis of climate change, the U.S. will inevitably institute a carbon tax on fossil fuel energy generation. When that happens, clean wind power will gain an economic advantage.
- The cost of offshore wind energy has fallen dramatically over its more than 20-year history in Europe, where it now competes with conventional sources. Continuing advancements in technology brings new cost declines every year.
- A domino effect will occur as states up and down the Atlantic erect wind turbines off their coasts. Development currently underway off Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Delaware and Maryland will launch manufacturing supply chain industries, leading to sharp cost declines as experienced in Europe.