OFFSHORE WIND BASICS
RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW:
Wind Energy Off the Virginia Coast
Offshore wind can provide clean energy at the scale we need to help curb the climate crisis. The wind resource off the Atlantic coast is four times greater than our entire U.S. electric power demand today. Several other East Coast states are moving forward with offshore wind farms, and one (Rhode Island) already has one operational. Developing this clean energy resource would allow Virginia to meet its carbon emission reduction goals, while also creating new jobs and business opportunities.
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 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, almost 10,000 jobs could be created in Virginia. These are high-paying, local, career-length jobs that can’t be exported overseas.
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.
Dominion contends that its current projected price of offshore wind means it should be delayed well into the future. This is short-sighted. Numerous factors lend to competitive pricing for offshore wind compared to Dominion’s business-as-usual carbon-polluting alternative.
- 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.
The Commonwealth of Virginia holds a small research lease area adjacent to the Virginia WEA. Dominion is the lead developer of a test turbine project to be located there called the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project or VOWTAP. This project involves two 6 MW turbines and was originally scheduled to break ground in 2017. Higher than expected cost projections caused Dominion to postpone the development indefinitely. This delay coupled with Dominion’s inability to guarantee operation by 2020 caused the U.S. Department of Energy to withdraw its remaining grant support of approximately $40 million in 2016.
In July 2017, Dominion announced it would partner with Denmark-based DONG Energy (now Orsted) to complete the project (now renamed the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind or CVOW project.) Dominion’s IRP includes a 2021 in-service date for the two turbines. Dominion has also indicated that Orsted may participate in development of the commercial WEA.