Opinion: Offshore Wind Project Shows Power, Potential


NEXT YEAR, Virginia will make history with the first offshore wind turbines in federal waters anywhere in the United States. It has been a long, slow journey to bring us to the launch of this new industry, but we are now in a position to make this clean energy resource a significant part of our energy supply in the coming years.

Critics — including Virginia’s State Corporation Commission — have noted that the two turbines comprising the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) demonstration project come with a price per kilowatt-hour that’s higher than that for conventional industries.

But it is unfair to compare a small demonstration project in a promising new industry with a large-scale facility in a mature industry. The 12 megawatts of the CVOW will help developers determine how to build the next 2,000 MW in the most cost-effective manner. Cost-saving lessons from CVOW are already and will continue benefiting all the offshore wind projects now under development up and down the East Coast.

There is only one offshore wind project in the United States that’s already operational, and it’s in state waters just 5 miles off Rhode Island’s Block Island. The CVOW is going into waters 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach.

Dominion Energy is partnering with Ørsted, the world’s leading offshore wind developer. This partnership ensures that CVOW will be online by the end of next year. Virginians can take enormous pride in being true pioneers in the clean energy revolution.

The first projects in any new industry are expensive; then costs fall dramatically as developers refine their craft and an efficient supply chain emerges. This has already happened in Europe, and it is starting to happen in the United States as other states commit to more and larger projects.

Moreover, in its zeal to protect utility customers, the SCC has often shown shortsightedness in evaluating clean energy projects.

The SCC ignores vital externalities, such as the costs to ratepayers associated with fossil fuel generation. These are costs to public health caused by the normal course of business involving the legal dumping of toxins into our air and water. There are also climate costs in burning fossil fuels, increasingly forcing all of us to bear the costs of flooding, sea level rise, and adaptation.

If the SCC were to appropriately weigh these costs, renewable energy projects would be a slam dunk for approval. And that’s without even measuring the enormous economic development and job creation benefits of both solar and wind energy generation.

At the July 1 CVOW groundbreaking event, Dominion CEO Tom Farrell made three commitments that go beyond completion of the demonstration project: the utility will invest $1.1 billion into offshore wind through 2023; it will develop a first phase of its larger commercial lease area by 2024; and Dominion “can build more than 2,000 MW of wind energy off this coast over the next decade,” in Farrell’s words.

Dominion recognizes a profit opportunity with offshore wind. It is getting wise to the fact that big corporations such as Salesforce, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Apple increasingly demand that their businesses be powered with clean energy. Walmart and other large customers have petitioned the SCC to be allowed to leave Dominion and buy clean energy elsewhere; other companies signed a letter to the SCC saying they want renewable energy, not fracked gas.

Offshore wind is a mature industry in Europe, having supplied clean energy there for more than 20 years. Today, Europe is beginning to plan for as much as 450,000 MW of offshore wind by 2050. Developers have seen a 60% reduction in costs for offshore wind generation, making it competitive with gas and beating coal and oil hands-down.

Prices for awarded projects in the United States are seeing a gradual cost decrease, much like we have seen in Europe in the last six years. And with more than 25,000 MW of offshore wind projects in the U.S. pipeline, enough to power more than 8 million American homes, it’s only a matter of time before offshore wind prices come down further.

The premium paid now for CVOW is an investment today that will pay off with cost efficiencies in the full commercial build out. Eye on the prize, Virginians! We are looking at thousands of clean energy megawatts, thousands of green jobs, and blowing away the carbon reduction goals that will literally keep our heads above water.

Eileen Woll is offshore energy program director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter, based in Norfolk.