Dominion Energy on Thursday announced plans to build the nation’s largest offshore wind farm off the coast of Virginia — a 220-turbine installation that would power 650,000 homes at peak wind.
If it gains state and federal approvals, the $7.8 billion project would deliver 880 megawatts of energy by 2024 and a total of 2,600 megawatts by 2026. The turbines would be anchored on 112,800 acres Dominion is leasing from the federal government 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach.
Dominion’s announcement comes two days after Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order calling for a plan to make Virginia’s electric grid solely dependent on carbon-free energy sources by 2050. That plan called for 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind by 2026.
“That executive order was a validation of what we thought was an important project for our customers,” said Mark Mitchell, vice president of generation construction with Dominion, adding that planning for the expansive project had been ongoing for years. “He definitely stepped up the challenge, and we’re rising to it.”
As pitched, Dominion’s would be the largest offshore wind farm in the country. The nation’s first commercial offshore wind farm began operation off the coast of Rhode Island in 2016. Others are in development.
“If approved and generating power as projected in 2026, Dominion’s 2,500 megawatts project will be the single largest project in U.S. waters,” said Laura Morton, a policy analyst with the American Wind Energy Association, an industry group. The next largest project, Ocean Wind, would generate 1,100 megawatts off the New Jersey coast.
New Jersey has a procurement goal of 3,500 megawatts by 2030. New York recently announced a 9,000 megawatt goal by 2030.
Making Virginia a leader in offshore wind has become a goal for Northam, who vowed policy support for the industry during a speech in Norfolk on Thursday. Northam is calling for construction permits related to Dominion’s project to be filed by 2021 — the last full year of his administration.
“To my friends in the supply chain for offshore wind, let me add this: We are going to remain the nation’s leader in offshore wind,” Northam said.
“I’ve heard concerns about regulatory resistance. I commit that the commonwealth will have the necessary legislative and public policy support for realizing our full potential in offshore wind.”
The cost of Dominion’s offshore project, like its others, would be borne by Virginia ratepayers through their utility bills — an increase that would require the approval of the State Corporation Commission.
The commission weighed in on Dominion’s offshore wind plans in November of last year — when Dominion sought approval for a $300 million two-turbine pilot — lambasting the project but acknowledging its hands were tied by General Assembly directives supporting Dominion’s clean energy projects.
On the large-scale wind project, the commission said at the time that Dominion’s own analysis had found that “a larger full-scale offshore wind generation facility, which the [pilot] project is intended to demonstrate, is not expected to be economically competitive with other options for the next 25 years under any scenario studied.”
Dominion would need approval from the SCC by 2023 to meet its current goals.
Dominion is moving ahead with its large-scale project just months after it broke ground on its pilot in July. That project won’t be completed until December 2020.
Mitchell said that despite not having the results of the pilot, Dominion learned a lot about the regulatory and permitting process it will need to follow as it moves ahead with its larger project. The pilot remains the only permitted offshore wind project in federal waters, which Mitchell called “a feat.”
Dominion estimates the large-scale project will cost $2.6 billion per phase, though Mitchell said the company anticipates costs will go down as offshore wind technology becomes more widely used.
“We think our customers will embrace it,” Mitchell said.