$200 million wind turbine facility planned for Virginia

Source: By Jim Morrison, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A lineup of local, state and federal leaders said the project, the largest in the United States, positioned Virginia at the forefront of developing wind energy. “This puts us a vital step closer to being the leader in offshore wind,” Northam said, adding that in a few short years the state had pivoted from exploring offshore drilling, which would harm the environment, to offshore wind. “Virginia,” he said, “is all in for offshore wind.”

The facility, combined with its operations and maintenance activities, will create 310 new jobs, including 50 service positions to support Dominion’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project 27 miles off the coast. Dominion says the wind farm will generate enough electricity to power up to 660,000 homes at peak and avoid as much as 5 million tons of carbon dioxide being dumped into the atmosphere annually.

Carbon dioxide is a prime driver of global temperature rise. Keeping that 2 degree Celsius rise below preindustrial levels is considered by scientists to be key to avoiding the worst effects of the climate crisis.

Answering questions after the announcement, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm said the project was symbolic of a new economy based on clean energy. “Building and assembling these blades here is just the start of what we see as a whole ecosystem surrounding offshore wind,” she said. “I’m talking about an industrial ecosystem. Right now, all of those jobs are overseas, largely in Europe. But there is no reason why those facilities should not be here.”

Europe has 5,400 turbines with a capacity of 25 gigawatts, powering more than 8 million homes. It added over 350 turbines in 2020. The European Union said in 2019 that offshore wind accounted for 210,000 jobs across its 27 member nations and the United Kingdom. The United States has only seven turbines off the coast, including Dominion’s two in Virginia.

Jim Lanard, the chief executive of Magellan Wind, who has been involved in developing offshore energy for more than a decade, said the blade finishing facility is part of making the United States competitive. Coupled with wind tower manufacturing plants being created at the Port of Albany, Sparrows Point in Baltimore and the Paulsboro Marine Terminal in New Jersey, it puts domestic production on a promising track.

The Biden administration recently announced a road map to developing wind farms along most of the coastline, including plots for seven major farms by 2025.

President Biden has pledged to cut the nation’s fossil fuel emissions 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 through policies promoting clean energy including wind and solar. One goal is to build 30 gigawatts of offshore wind facilities in the United States by 2030. Granholm noted the Dominion plan would fulfill 5.2 gigawatts of that goal.

“The president says, ‘When I hear the words climate change, I think about jobs,’ ” Granholm said. “He sees the opportunity that is presented in this clean energy economy globally. It is a $23 trillion market by 2030.”

Northam said the project would help fulfill the goals of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which commits the state to ­carbon-free energy production by 2045.

The facility at the Port of Virginia is particularly suited to staging and supporting offshore wind construction. The port has deep water access — 55 feet — which will allow the 472-foot, $500 million wind turbine installation ship to use it as a home port. Dominion is building the ship, named Charybdis, in Brownsville, Tex. It is expected to begin service in 2023. In addition, the channels to the port are unencumbered by bridges, something unique on the East Coast.

“Having a blade factory in Hampton Roads is a key step toward a more efficient domestic supply chain with American clean energy jobs,” said Robert M. Blue, Dominion Energy’s chief executive officer.

Kris Ohleth, the executive director of the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind, said having a local supply chain to meet the 30 gigawatts goal is “huge.”

To reach that goal, a study by the initiative concludes that $109 billion in private investment over the next decade is needed to build nearly 2,060 turbines to create those 30 gigawatts in the Biden plan. “There’s all this talk about public-sector spending, but the private sector is going to do a tremendous amount of spending, too,” she said. “So that’s the synergy that’s really going to create this once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop the ports and cities of America.”

The key to that is manufacturing the turbines near places where they will be installed. “Many of these components are too large to transport over roadways,” she said. “That’s the key to these ports, especially in Virginia. This can be a regional hub, like other ports in New York and New Jersey that will serve wind farms up and down the East Coast.”

Building blades in the United States, Granholm said, will be much cheaper than transporting them from Europe. She also sees the finishing plant as a step toward full domestic production of turbines, prodded by tax credits.

Granholm said she did some teaching before taking the Energy Department job. One assignment examined the assets of the states for creating clean energy. Virginia’s top asset, she said, was its ports as a catalyst for offshore wind energy production.

“All kinds of jobs are going to be created here. And that is super exciting,” Granholm added. “But what’s really exciting is this is the first so 10 years from now, you’ll be able to take your grandchildren to the whole suite of offshore wind turbines and say, I was there at the very beginning.”

Earlier, Northam noted that the two operating Dominion turbines had become attractions for marine life and he was looking forward to taking advantage of that with his coming free time. Turning to Granholm as she finished answering questions, he said, “And we’ll go out and fish.”