Virginia To Challenge For Top Offshore Wind Spot In US — 2 Gigawatts By 2028

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Hot on the heels of New Jersey’s decision to solicit 1.1 gigawatts (GW) worth of offshore wind capacity, southern cousin Virginia is positioning itself to become the South’s first offshore wind giant with a goal of installing at least 2,000 megawatts (MW) in the coming decade.

Block Island Offshore Wind Farm, America’s first offshore wind farm

New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities announced last Monday that it would open an application window for 1,100 MW worth of offshore wind capacity, a first step in the State’s goal of installing 3,500 MW of offshore wind by 2030. The news immediately spurred discussion about the possibility of the state being the country’s first offshore wind powerhouse, building on the recent flurry of activity in the East Coast’s offshore wind development which, at the moment, boasts a pipeline of around 5 GW.

Virginia, not to be outdone, however — and building on its commitment to building 5.5 GW worth of solar and wind energy as part of its 2018 omnibus energy bill announced earlier this year — believes that it can become the South’s first offshore wind giant. Within the space of a few days, global renewable energy consultants BVG Associates published a self-proclaimed “landmark report” which charted a course that would place the state as one of the country’s leading offshore wind hubs, before the Virginia Offshore Wind Executive Summit was held, at which Virginia Governor Ralph Northam spoke, heralding offshore wind as “a tremendous victory for Virginia.”

“Offshore wind is a tremendous victory for Virginia, providing the potential for a new industry, offering valuable fuel diversity, reducing our carbon footprint, and serving as an important economic engine,” said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. “Virginia is on the leading edge in advancing clean energy resources, and we have a clear opportunity to act as a change agent in driving development.”

“Governor Murphy came into office with a bold vision for offshore wind in New Jersey and within nine months of his inauguration, the state’s Board of Public Utilities has begun accepting applications for what could be the biggest offshore wind farm in the US,” said Nancy Sopko, Director, Offshore Wind, American Wind Energy Association. “This is the kind of action that spurs investment and job creation at the scale needed to launch this new American energy industry.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announcing the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project in August

Speaking at the Summit, hosted by the Business Network for Offshore Wind, along with the Sierra Club Virginia, Northam also spoke about Virginia’s 12 MW demonstration project — which was first announced in August — consisting of two 6 MW turbines that would provide necessary research and development information. The state hopes that the demonstration — which is the first to be constructed in federal waters and expected to be completed by 2020 — will provide important information to stakeholders such as the military, commercial and recreational interests, and other government entities. The Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) demonstration project will be built by Dominion Energy and Danish offshore wind energy giant Ørsted, approximately 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach.

“The research project will provide the local supply chain experience, help streamline the Federal regulatory process and demonstrate new technologies while maintaining their ability to withstand hurricanes,” said Liz Burdock, the President and CEO of the Business Network for Offshore Wind. “Virginia is a great State and has many assets to support the development of the Southeast offshore wind supply chain, including no height restrictions or bridges for the turbines to battle, fabulous port infrastructure and well-qualified, and skilled labor force.”

“Virginia’s leaders have an immediate opportunity to strengthen the Virginia economy for working families and create safer, healthier communities by tapping into our vast offshore wind resource,” added Eileen Woll, director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter’s offshore energy program. Woll also pointed to the BVG Associates report published just days earlier: By immediately leveraging its unique competitive advantages, Virginia can supply key components to the first wave of offshore wind projects being developed farther north,” said Woll.  “As a result, Virginia will derive immediate economic benefits, ensure development of its own 2 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2028, and provide the tipping point for a second wave of projects in the mid – and Southeast Atlantic.”

The report paints what it describes as “a realistic and immediate opportunity for Virginia to establish itself as a hub for the entire East Coast offshore wind supply chain.” Specifically, the report outlines how Virginia’s unique infrastructure and geographical advantages provide it with a leg-up in developing its goal of 2 GW worth of offshore wind. According to the report’s authors, Virginia boasts five main competitive advantages:

  • Industrial coastal infrastructure, with large areas for laydown and storage, quayside length for load-out, and direct access to the open ocean with unlimited vertical clearance
  • A large skilled and experienced workforce in shipbuilding and ship repair, ports, logistics and vessel operations
  • Highway, rail, and inland waterway connections linking Virginia’s ports to industrial centers throughout the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest
  • Eastern population centers with high and growing electricity demand, particularly for the internet economy. Northern Virginia is hosting a major and growing internet corridor, and in Virginia Beach, two new data centers are being built
  • High-voltage interconnection capability in Virginia Beach, sufficient for all the anticipated commercial lease area capacity after moderate investment

The first two advantages listed, according to the authors of the report, make the Hampton Roads region of Virginia — both the body of water and the surrounding metropolitan region — “a highly attractive location on the US East Coast for the major offshore wind scope, notably for the fabrication and assembly of jacket foundations and offshore substation platforms.” Jacket and substation production in Hampton Roads could result in over 2,000 new direct and indirect jobs.

“This report breaks new ground showing the linkage between supply chain investments on shore and project development offshore,” explained George Hagerman, Senior Project Scientist at Old Dominion University’s Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography. “Virginia can establish Hampton Roads as a production hub for supplying jacket foundations and substation platforms to the first wave of offshore wind projects farther north. As these new facilities mature and become more efficient, they pave the way for a second wave of lower-cost projects off Virginia and Kitty Hawk, adding about 4GW of market pull to the estimated 8GW farther north, thereby securing the financial return on early manufacturing investments in Hampton Roads.”

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Joshua S Hill

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