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inRoads Research: Opportunity Awaits in Offshore Wind

Virginia’s offshore wind energy resource was hailed as a “sleeping giant” at last year’s Sea to Land Conference and Exhibition. This year the conference declared, “the giant is now awake.” Dominion Energy collaborated with Orsted, a Denmark-based power company, planning to erect two 600-foot-tall wind turbines by the end of 2020 and recently announced plans to eventually build a 220-turbine wind farm by 2026. These two 6-megawatt turbines are just the beginning for Dominion Energy’s plans to build the country's largest offshore wind farm off Virginia’s coast that could generate enough electricity to power 650,000 homes

"We are extremely pleased to hear of Dominion Energy's plans to aggressively pursue offshore wind energy and build off the coast of Virginia Beach. Once completed, this wind farm will be the largest of its kind in the United States and will make Virginia and the Hampton Roads region leaders in the renewable energy industry along the East Coast. The announcement could lead to thousands of new jobs for the local economy through the development of a supply chain. Dominion Energy is a valued investor in the Alliance and we are committed to supporting them in this new initiative."
-Doug Smith, President & CEO, Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance

There are several clear benefits of this initial phase that will inform the larger commercial wind project. The two planned turbines are the first to be installed in U.S. Federal waters. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is responsible for determining where offshore wind farms are permitted and is the federal agency that sells leases to qualified bidders. Receiving approval to build in federal waters is a key milestone that made way for future development. This phase will provide invaluable experience in design, installation and operations.

The near-term goal for Hampton Roads is to prepare for future capacity. Preparation largely includes workforce development which will support a mature offshore wind supply chain. Four areas of focus for Hampton Roads’ workforce development are (1) making available[PAC1]  At-Sea Training which is certified by the Global Wind Organization and is required for all persons stepping on a turbine (not currently available to the U.S.), (2) providing Wind Technician and Turbine Construction training at the community college level as a 2-year degree or stand-alone certificate, (3) bolstering applicable existing degree programs in engineering and business, and (4) developing a post-bachelor degree certificate program in wind farm site assessment.

Offshore wind supply chain development for Hampton Roads means economic diversification. Foundation fabrication would diversify Virginia’s Shipbuilding and Repairing industry. Demand for skilled workers in management, professional, and technical occupations will drive diversification of the industry’s employment base.  Offshore wind for the region simply takes advantage of resources that are already in place. The Port of Virginia is already well suited to fabricate, assemble, and ship infrastructure projects in the northeast, and the region’s shipyard supply chains are already well-suited to offshore substation manufacturing.

On September 17, Governor Northam signed an executive order setting Virginia on a path to generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2050. At a state level, offshore wind’s potential for job creation is as many as 37,000 jobs under an 8-gigawatt East Coast buildout scenario. As the governor’s directive relate to Virginia’s alignment and realization of offshore wind energy production, the focus is on Hampton Roads, where the center of the state’s major industry advantages lay.

Many of the major advantages of Hampton Roads for the realization of offshore wind include:

  • Mid-Atlantic location
  • Largest U.S. shipbuilding cluster and maritime workforce
  • Existing infrastructure for upright assembly of major OSW components
  • Existing heavy lift capacity
  • Absence of overhead obstacles to transport upright components
  • Ongoing channel improvements to reduce port congestion
  • Abundant waterfront land/infrastructure with existing capacity
  • Unique research leases for technology and innovation demonstration
  • Robust regional technology and research capacity
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