California is making waves with a big announcement of big plans for offshore wind, but the Golden State already hosts hundreds of wind turbines on shore. The really big news on the wind front is all the way across the country in Virginia, which has practically zero megawatts to its credit, onshore or off. That’s about to change all at once. Utility regulators in Virginia just stamped their seal of approval on a massive, Texas-sized offshore wind farm to the tune of 176 wind turbines totaling almost 2.6 gigawatts.
Wait, How Does An Offshore Wind Turbine Get To 14.7 Megawatts?
The new offshore wind farm comes under the umbrella of the Virginia-based company Dominion Energy, and we have questions.
Virginia’s State Corporation Commission approved the 2.6 gigawatt array of 176 turbines on August 5, stating that each turbine is “designed to generate 14.7 megawatts.”
The last time we checked, the most powerful offshore wind turbine on the market was GE’s Haliade-X, which the company initially introduced as a 12-megawatt turbine in 2018, before bumping it up to 13 megawatts, and then finally settling on 14 megawatts in 2020.
Well, it looks like we have a lot of catching up to do. A turbine patent case pitting GE against Siemens Gamesa has been winding through the courts, and last week the judgement came down against GE. Both parties can appeal the decision, but in the meantime Dominion has already tapped Siemens to supply the new turbines for the new Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project.
Siemens also introduced a new turbine in 2020, under the name SG 14-222 DD. The turbines were introduced as 14 megawatt models, and designed to accommodate a capacity of up to 15 megawatts.
That still leaves a question. Last December, Siemens announced that it is working with Dominion on the new wind farm, deploying its 14-megawatt turbines.
The answer is that earlier this summer, Siemens announced that it will also supply SG 14-222 DD turbines for an offshore wind project in Scotland, at a capacity of 14.7 megawatts per turbine. Assuming the same turbines are heading for Virginia, that’s where the extra 0.7 comes in.
Who’s Gonna Pay For This New Offshore Wind Farm?
Meanwhile, the cost of the offshore plan has been an issue. “The project is expected to have a capital cost of $9.8 billion and will likely be the largest capital investment, and single largest project, in the history of Dominion Energy Virginia,” the State Corporation Commission explained in a press release announcing its approval of the plan.
As it stands, ratepayers will pick up the tab. SCC anticipates an average monthly bill increase of $4.72, peaking out at $14.22 in 2027.
Ouch! Nobody wants to hear about a rate increase when the cost of everything else is going up. However, $14.22 per month is chump change for many households, and it’s a small price to pay for helping to avoid catastrophic climate change.
For many other households, though, life-altering circumstances such as facing eviction or having to drop out of school can hang in the balance over just a handful of dollars. SCC is depending on the Virginia legislature to enact funding mechanisms to help offset increased costs. Here, let’s have them explain it:
“Importantly, the General Assembly has effectively maintained its ability to implement additional protections – for example through funding mechanisms such as general fund appropriation or other means, such as implementing new legislation designating the consumer-funded proceeds from Dominion’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (“RGGI”) be used to lessen the cost of the CVOW Project… Such action may be appropriate given the public policy support for and economic development aspects of this Project.”
Offshore wind fans also point out that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Power costs money no matter where it comes from. Dominion reportedly estimates that ratepayers are facing an increase of between 12 and 20% due to the rising cost of coal, oil, and gas for its fossil energy fleet.
From that perspective, offshore wind has the advantage of an endless supply of free fuel on the spot, plus the elimination of commodity price fluctuations.
What’s The Matter With Virginia?
Virginia is also of interest because offshore wind has had a tough row to hoe all up and down the Atlantic coast. Despite ideal conditions — including relatively shallow water, proximity to coastal population centers, and access to transportation routes — only a handful of offshore wind turbines have been planted in the Atlantic so far.
There’s a reason for that. Former President Obama tried to organize Atlantic states to accelerate wind development along the Atlantic coast, only to run into partisan opposition from several governors.
The Trump administration threw up additional roadblocks, but in a weird twist the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management continued working on a new process for streamlining federal permit approvals all during the Trump years. That process is now in force.
In addition, last month the Biden administration announced a new Atlantic states consortium for offshore wind, consisting of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.
Weirdly, Virginia is not on the list. As reported by the Virginia Mercury, the state’s Republican Governor, Glenn Youngkin, opted not to participate in the new collaboration.
Apparently the Youngkin administration is betting that the Virginia economy will realize more benefits by not playing along with other Atlantic states. For that matter, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida are also not part of the collaboration.
They better hedge that bet. Within the Biden wind consortium, four states — Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — have also hooked up to formulate plans for exploiting the green hydrogen trend, which is tightly entwined with offshore wind development. That could give an edge to the entire collaboration.
The Virginia Mercury also cited an email from the Youngkin administration to the effect that they are “focused on the economic development opportunities presented by this emerging sector in a way that is consistent with promoting jobs for Virginia and its right-to-work philosophy.”
That explains that. As with all Biden initiatives, the new multistate wind consortium is focused like a thousand points of light on creating new green union jobs, whereas Governor Youngkin is not.
Last month, Virginia Mercury also reported that the Youngkin administration is treading cautiously on new BOEM plans to auction off additional federal lease areas for offshore wind development.
“The administration’s comments came in response to a BOEM proposal for a 4 million acre Central Atlantic call area where the federal government could auction off lease areas to offshore wind developers. The public comment period on the draft call area closed Tuesday,” Virginia Mercury reported.
Oh, well. Voters in Virginia will eventually get a chance to vote on a new governor, if they want more union jobs and more offshore wind, too.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Offshore wind turbines via Virginia State Corporation Commission.
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