Editorial: Virginia seeks to harness promise of wind power

This is getting serious. Ørsted came to town on Tuesday and signed a lease for a piece of the Portsmouth Marine Terminal that could introduce a new future for Hampton Roads.

“This is a big step towards making Virginia a leader in wind energy and offshore wind manufacturing,” said Gov. Ralph Northam. “With the Port of Virginia at its helm, the Hampton Roads region has the trained workforce and the nautical know-how to become a vital hub for offshore wind development.”

OK, let’s start with the basics. What’s an Ørsted?

It’s a Danish energy giant and the single most significant manufacturer of wind technology in the world. With Ørsted’s help, Europe had leapt in front of the world with 18 gigawatts (as of 2018) of offshore wind capacity.

“Our vision is a world that runs entirely on green energy,” says Henrik Poulsen, Ørsted’s CEO.

Very nice.

Nice enough for others to be interested, too. The Wall Street Journal recently pointed to “a nearly $10 billion offshore wind-power project in Taiwan demonstrates Asia’s growing presence in a market previously centered in Europe.”

So, the game is on, there’s money to be made in them thar breezes — not to mention the prospect of clean energy production — and where’s the home team, the U.S. of A.?

Finally suiting up, it seems. We have coasts. We have wind. What we’ve lacked the resolve to make something of it and that mostly comes down to some brutal cost/benefit analysis.

But now that the unit costs of new wind and solar power have dramatically fallen — by nearly 50% and 85%, respectively, over the last decade or so — different thinking has emerged.

Dominion Energy picked up on these shifting winds, so to speak, and has not been shy about it. It proposed in September to establish the largest offshore wind development in the country.

The facility will sit 27 miles out to sea on 112,800 acres. In the to-the-point of one of Dominion’s operatives, “We’re going to do this. We will own it, build it, service it and transport electrons carbon-free to homes and businesses on the grid.”

Dominion Energy has already begun training employees for the arduous work involved. These turbines will be enormous, soaring to 600 feet above the water. Upon completion, Dominion’s offshore facility will power 750,000 homes, which is very good news.

Good, too, to see state Senate Pro Tem Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, taking the legislative lead on this.

“Port of Virginia Looks to Become Wind Power Leader,” read the headline in the industry newsletter “Transport Topics” — and that’s no exaggeration.

How so? Because it could lay the basis for not only building turbines off Virginia, but also for new wind projects up and down the entire U.S. Atlantic Coast.

Virginia has that remarkable potential. Huge turbine blades, once built, do not transport easily. Not by rail or road, anyway. It’s a whole lot better to build them where you can quickly reach the sea.

“We’re very close to open water,” says Virginia Port Authority chairman John G. Milliken. “You don’t have to go up a long river, cross a long bay or deal with bridges.”

Yes, Virginia has its advantages. “We have well-train people, experienced in maritime enterprise. And we’ve got the space,” Milliken says.

That would be the Portsmouth facility — just sitting there, but now rich with possibilities. The agreement could be worth as much as $13 million in lease payments, with necessary site improvements running to another $20 million for cranes and assorted equipment.

But that’s just for starters.

Jennifer Palestrant, chief deputy for Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, told local leaders on Jan. 16 that momentum is building. Virginia could score a major slice of an estimated $70 billion wind industry.

Imagine, Palestrant said, Hampton Roads with maritime activity rivaling levels not seen since World War II.

Yes, imagine.