Environmental review begins on wind turbine project

Published 8:45 pm Thursday, July 1, 2021

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will begin an environmental review process for a potential wind energy project off the Virginia Beach coast that will take about two years to complete.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland was in Norfolk with Gov. Ralph Northam and Sen. Tim Kaine for the July 1 announcement, with officials also touring the Port of Virginia and touting the thousands of jobs the project is expected to bring to Hampton Roads.

“This is the first major milestone in the permitting process,” Northam said. “And we are thrilled that this project is moving forward and that it will help the Commonwealth meet its full wind energy capacity.”

The public comment period will begin July 2 with the publication of the notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement in the Federal Register and will continue through Aug. 2. During the 30-day comment period, the bureau will hold three virtual public scoping meetings — on July 12, July 14 and July 20 (More information: https://www.boem.gov/renewable-energy/state-activities/CVOW-C) — which it says will help determine “important resources and issues, potential impacts to the environment, reasonable alternatives and mitigation measures to be analyzed in the environmental impact statement.”

Dominion is expected to seek regulatory approval for the project from the Virginia State Corporation Commission later this year.

A draft environmental impact statement is expected by August 2022, with a final environmental impact statement to come by May 2023 and a decision on it by June 2023.

“This announcement today is about solutions,” said Sen. Tim Kaine. “Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth will now be a leader in offshore wind and decarbonizing our economy, so that we’re not just affected by, or suffering the effects of climate change, but we’re at the forefront and the vanguard at trying to solve climate change.”

The proposed wind farm, dubbed the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project, could bring anywhere between 180 and 205 wind turbines to be located 27 to 42 miles off the Virginia Beach coast in the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently, Dominion Energy operates two wind turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach that have been providing 12 megawatts of power since October 2020. It was the first project to be fully permitted through the bureau’s review process, and Dominion is using information gathered from it to guide it as it prepares for adding the nearly 200 additional turbines that will not only be larger, but also provide more power — if it gets the approvals it needs.

The large-scale project would provide 2,640 megawatts of electricity to be installed and enough to generate power for up to 660,000 Dominion Energy customers, according to company officials. Dominion Energy would own and operate the project, which includes three offshore substations and two possible cable landfall areas in Virginia Beach.

The project, which would be the first offshore commercial wind farm in Virginia, is expected to generate about 900 jobs from 2020 through 2026, with a peak of about 1,500 jobs in 2024 and 2025, according to an economic impact study by Glen Allen-based Mangum Economics and commissioned by the Hampton Roads Alliance. When operational, it is expected to support about 1,100 long-term jobs.

Officials say the offshore wind industry would ultimately create nearly 14,000 jobs in the Hampton Roads region and nearly 80,000 jobs in the United States by 2030.

While under construction, the project is expected to generate an estimated $5 million yearly in local and state taxes, and nearly $11 million once the project is finished and operating.

Haaland, as part of her tour at the port, praised its capabilities in handling the project, noting it is being retrofitted to meet the needs of a growing offshore wind industry.

The port is a year and a half into a four-year process of dredging its shipping channels 55-foot deep and widening it at points to 1,400 feet, which by 2024 will allow two ultra-large container ships to simultaneously navigate Norfolk Harbor. The port says it will be the only one on the East Coast with this capability.

Haaland touted the port’s terminal space and high lift capabilities that will be needed to build off-shore wind projects in the Mid-Atlantic, and its job-training programs to sustain the offshore wind industry.

“These efforts will help the port establish the offshore wind supply chain, create good-paying jobs and attract economic development,” Haaland said.

Northam said the state is well-positioned and ready to grow the wind energy industry, and expects it to create “several thousand” jobs in the next 10 years.

“It has been a tremendous first step into the future of offshore wind,” Northam said. “This announcement …. brings us closer to a carbon-free future.”

Northam said that with the region’s maritime history, the world’s largest naval base and the country’s largest military shipbuilding company, “Hampton Roads is bustling with talent needed to drive the wind industry.”

Officials also discussed workforce training issues, with Northam citing the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance as the state’s first offshore and onshore wind workforce training collaborative. That program is expected to allow participants to receive the needed training and certifications needed in the operations and long-term maintenance of wind projects.

Issuing the notice of intent starts the federal review process by the bureau and other agencies and the preparing of an environmental impact statement, expected to take about two years.

In December, Dominion filed its construction and operations plan to build the wind turbines in a 112,800-acre area it is leasing from the federal government. It submitted an updated plan last month.

Offshore wind, similar to the numerous solar farms that have been proposed in Western Tidewater and throughout Virginia, is part of Dominion Energy’s plans to increase the use of renewable energy as part of requirements mandated by the Virginia Clean Energy Act, calling for the state to generate 5,200 megawatts of offshore wind energy between now and 2034.

Haaland said the Interior Department and its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would work with all stakeholders to advance offshore wind to revolutionize the economy.

“I’m pleased to witness Virginia’s incredible progress in advancing offshore wind and helping build clean energy for the Commonwealth, for the country, for future generations,” Haaland said.

She said offshore wind is critical to President Joe Biden’s climate change agenda and to meet his administration’s goal of developing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030.
“The demand for offshore wind energy has never been greater,” Haaland said.

The bureau and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently entered into an agreement allowing the Army Corps to provide the bureau with added scientific and technical resources to evaluate offshore wind projects on the Outer Continental Shelf. That was done in partnership with Old Dominion University with assistance from the state’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. The state has created a Division of Offshore Wind within that department.

And, though the agreement’s scope covers all renewable energy activities in the Atlantic Ocean off the U.S. coast, the initial focus will be on reviewing the offshore wind project off the Virginia Beach coast, and another such project off the coast of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

“All of this adds up to a Commonwealth that is an offshore wind leader,” Northam said, “and we are excited to expand our offshore wind industry.”