Opinion: Virginians, Including Republicans, Should Support Wind Energy
BY: BRIAN KIRWIN
With the recent elections, Democrats will control both the Virginia General Assembly and the Executive Mansion. Legislatively, the political debate over the existence of climate change is moot. The General Assembly will act. What the correct actions are will be the only question.
I won’t pretend to have the magic answer, but I am sure that solutions must be economically sustainable, and it is essential that any solutions are pro-growth and create jobs. Fortunately, both are possible by relying more heavily on wind energy — something that is in abundance right here in Hampton Roads and off our coast.
As a stable, low cost source of energy, the use of wind energy has grown in recent years. And because it is renewable, it is immune from the fluctuating price spikes associated with traditional sources of energy. That stabilization is crucial. As the use of wind energy has gone up, its cost has decreased by more than 66% since 2009. It is now the least expensive source of new electricity production. Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, Anheuser-Busch, Walmart, ExxonMobil and Shell Energy are using wind power in record quantities since it is good for their bottom lines and helps them reduces their emission levels. In other words, it is a sustainable energy solution.
Greater reliance on wind energy provides economic benefits as well. “Wind turbine service technician” is the second-fastest growing job in the country, after solar installers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics. The industry’s trade association, the American Wind Energy Association, estimates that land-based wind currently supports more than 114,000 American jobs, including 24,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector. In 2017 alone, the United States added 8,500 wind power jobs in sectors such as wind turbine service, construction, engineering and manufacturing. Notably, many of these jobs are filled by America’s veterans, which bodes well for Hampton Roads.
Like land-based wind energy, offshore wind power will likely contribute to U.S. job growth. A recent study released by the New York-based Workforce Development Institute found that offshore wind development requires more than 74 different occupations — from boat crews to engineers to construction workers — during the project’s various stages. Many of these positions can tap into the skills of workers at existing oil and gas companies, whose livelihoods may otherwise be threatened by the transition to renewable energy.
Several weeks ago, Dominion Energy announced plans to build the United States’ largest offshore wind farm approximately 27 miles off the coast of Virginia. At a cost of roughly $7.8 billion, the proposed project would include 220 wind turbines able to power 650,000 homes at peak wind by 2026. That is big news, and while Dominion has a way to go on providing clean energy, it should be commended for its recent efforts. These initial efforts are often the costliest with the most economic risk, but Dominion has engaged in this effort enthusiastically.
Dominion’s announcement suggests that it is serious about increasing the use of renewable energy, which comes at a good time in the commonwealth. Just days before Dominion’s announcement, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order calling on state agencies to produce 30% of their electricity from renewables by 2030 and to go carbon-free by 2050. Northam’s plan also called for an offshore wind farm capable of producing 2,500 megawatts of wind energy to be completed by 2026, a goal that Dominion’s proposed project is expected to exceed.
On top of creating jobs, wind energy has the ability to deliver vast amounts of reliable, renewable energy to Virginians, particularly those living in Hampton Roads. Virginia’s elected officials and large companies have shown they are committed to a greater reliance on wind power and other clean sources of energy. This is something everyone in the commonwealth can take pride in.