Wind farm planned off Va. coast blows away federal agency, gains OK

Associated Press | 11/2/2023, 6 p.m.
A power company’s plans for an enormous offshore wind farm off Virginia’s coast gained key federal approval Tuesday after the ...

VIRGINIA BEACH - A power company’s plans for an enormous offshore wind farm off Virginia’s coast gained key federal approval Tuesday after the Biden administration evaluated the project’s potential impact on the environment.

Dominion Energy received what’s called a favorable “record of decision” from the federal Bureau of Ocean

Energy Management. The agency considered efforts to minimize effects on marine life, such as endangered North Atlantic right whales, among other factors.

The utility still needs federal approval of its construction and operation plans before more pilings rise above the Atlantic Ocean. Two pilot turbines have been in place since 2020.

Dominion plans to build 176 turbines more than 20 miles off the coast from the hotels and touristy boardwalk of Virginia Beach. Dominion said its project will be the largest offshore wind farm under development in the United States.

The project is expected to generate 2.6 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power up to 660,000 homes once fully constructed, according to the utility. It added that the wind farm’s output

should generate fuel savings of $3 billion for customers in its first decade of operation.

Dominion expects construction to be completed by late 2026.

“Today’s approval of the largest offshore wind project in U.S. history builds on the undeniable momentum we are seeing,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement, referring to four other offshore wind projects approved by President Joe Biden’s administration.

The administration said it wants to build 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 — enough to power more than 10 million homes.

Construction of the project in Virginia is expected to support about 900 jobs each year and then an estimated 1,100 annual jobs during operations, the Interior Department said.

The initiative has gained wide support from Virginia policymakers and political leaders, including Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who last week attended a reception marking the arrival of eight monopile foundations for the windfarm.

The monopiles, which are each about 272 feet long — about the length of a football field — and 31 feet in diameter, will be driven into the seabed. Each turbine, when fully assembled, will be 836 feet high.

Construction on the wind farm is set to begin in May, and the turbines will be operational by the end of 2026, said Robert M. “Bob” Blue, Dominion chair, president and CEO, in a Virginia Business magazine article.

“This is the real beginning of the offshore construction part of the project,” Mr. Blue said. “To get the first delivery of them, on time and on budget, is critical for our company, for our customers, for the state, and we’re very excited to have all those partners here,” he said.

He described seeing the monopiles arrive at Portsmouth Marine Terminal as “a great moment.

… Seeing these and seeing the size makes it even more real.”

Massive single vertical steel cylinders, the monopiles are manufactured in Germany by EEW SPC, and the trip to ship them across the Atlantic takes about 2½ weeks. Eight will be delivered at a time until all 176 arrive in Hampton Roads, according to Virginia Business magazine.

Environmental groups also have praised the undertaking.

The Southern Environmental Law Center cited the importance of offshore wind for cutting carbon pollution, which fuels climate change.

The project will “significantly reduce Dominion’s reliance on coal and methane gas and also means cost savings for customers,” Will Cleveland, a senior attorney in the law center’s Virginia office, said in a statement.

Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, added in a separate statement that “we must do everything we can to transition to a clean and just energy future, and offshore wind will play an outsized role.”