Mid-Atlantic
Construction of offshore wind turbines. (Ørsted)

Virginia is all-in on offshore wind but Dominion's decision raises questions about cost, competence

It’s not every day that the names of a major utility and the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization share space on a banner.

But at the American Wind Energy Association’s annual offshore wind conference earlier this month in Boston, the logos of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club and Dominion Energy bookended those of half a dozen state agencies, educational institutions and business development organizations on a banner proclaiming Virginia’s commitment to offshore wind.

A map of Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind test project. (Dominion Energy)

The banner anchored a large corner booth showcasing the strengths Virginia brings to the growing industry. Broad stakeholder support is one advantage; unlike Massachusetts, Virginia has seen little opposition to its plans for developing the 112,799-acre offshore wind energy area 27 miles out from Virginia Beach.

This broad stakeholder support is the product of more than a decade of work on the part of researchers, environmental organizations, the business community and elected leaders from both parties.

For the Sierra Club and Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, offshore wind offers carbon-free, renewable energy and a way to position the Virginia as a leader in the green economy. For the Port of Virginia and Virginia Beach Economic Development, it brings new business opportunities. For Old Dominion University and Virginia Tidewater Community College, it’s a chance to train young people and participate in ground-breaking research in ocean science and engineering. And for Dominion Energy, it offers a new avenue for profit and a way to rebrand itself as a clean energy company without having to shed its core investments in fracked gas.

Now, at last, it is poised to happen. In September, Northam signed an executive order targeting the full build-out of the federal offshore wind lease area off Virginia by 2026; two days later, Dominion Energy, which holds the lease, confirmed it plans to build 2,600 MW of offshore wind in three phases in 2024, 2025 and 2026. Once built, the 220 turbines are projected to produce enough electricity to power over 700,000 homes.

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