Virginia is all in for reinventing itself with renewable energy by capitalizing on offshore wind generation and job creation. On Sept. 19, Dominion Energy announced the largest offshore wind project in the U.S., to produce 2,600 megawatts of wind energy by 2026 off our coast. That’s enough to power approximately 650,000 homes. On Oct. 18, Gov. Ralph Northam set new clean energy goals, including reaching 30% of Virginia’s electric system powered from renewable sources by 2030, and 100% of electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050.
These are daunting goals, but the commonwealth is set up for success with like-minded leaders who share one single vision.
Virginia has tackled megaprojects like this before and it will do so again. Five years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers partnered with the Port of Virginia, the Virginia Maritime Association and scores of like-minded public and private sector stakeholders to create a plan for wider, deeper and safer federal navigation channels to accommodate the ultra-large container ships coming through the widened Panama Canal. This project is currently underway and has proceeded with a speed and agility seldom seen in similar federal projects.
This same group of leaders now joins others in government, academia and industry in a shared vision for what will become the nation’s largest offshore wind energy farm. The commonwealth of Virginia and Old Dominion University (ODU) have established an official task force to align, enable and accelerate offshore wind efforts until a formal office for offshore wind is established.
With more than 150 members, the commonwealth’s offshore wind task force benefits from organizational simplicity, offshore wind experience and statewide cooperative spirit. Leading the force is an executive committee comprised of the commonwealth of Virginia, Old Dominion University, Tidewater Community College, Dominion Energy, Port of Virginia, Virginia Maritime Association, Reinvent Hampton Roads, Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and Ørsted.
Five subcommittees represent critical areas for advancing offshore wind development: project development, supply chain development, workforce development, tech and innovation, and legislative and outreach.
Virginia’s centralized Atlantic Coast location, as well as our modern maritime infrastructure, position us well to be a supply chain hub for the offshore wind industry.
Equal in importance to supply chain development is job creation. We often hear that “offshore wind equals onshore jobs.” Here, our success will be directly related to how quickly we can establish the training and educational programs required to certify our future offshore wind workforce. Jennifer Palestrant, formerly of Tidewater Community College’s SMART Center, was recently appointed as chief deputy, Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. She, as well as Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne, will play a huge role in overseeing the commonwealth’s efforts for offshore wind in Virginia.
On the tech and innovation front, ODU and partner universities have applied or are currently applying for offshore wind-related research grants. What’s fueling much of this national interest is that the commonwealth is the sole holder of the only offshore wind research lease in federal waters.
Fair winds are blowing toward Virginia in other ways as well. At the Sept. 20 “Sea to Land” conference hosted by the Business Network for Offshore Wind, the organizers complimented the task force’s model as the standard other states should follow.
At the national level, Congress has taken notice with a recent letter signed by U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, as well as U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott and Elaine Luria of Virginia, encouraging the assistant secretary of the Army to begin a study required by law to identify at least three U.S. ports that qualify for the Innovative Port for Offshore Wind designation. Given our experienced maritime workforce, shipbuilding prowess, modernized port infrastructure, higher education assets, unique research lease and lack of overhead obstacles that prevent movement of upright turbine foundations, Virginia is perfectly suited for this designation.
Finally, we rely on the hard and diligent work of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Intergovernmental Planning Team. This group of dedicated professionals worked tirelessly to gain the required permits, coordinate with the U.S. Department of Defense and work with stakeholders to ensure that our passion to develop renewable energy is balanced with national security requirements and our responsibility to protect our natural resources.
Yes, Virginia is all in for reinventing itself through offshore wind. As for the oft-heard noise that our municipalities don’t always “play well” together, I’m proud to be among the chorus of leaders not seeing this for offshore wind. Similar to what I witnessed with port modernization, what I am seeing is great leaders sharing a common vision that will result in the completion of another transformational megaproject in Virginia.